Born in Berlin, Micha Bar-Am immigrated with his parents to Israel (then Palestine) in the ’30s and, after participating in the 1948 war of independence, became a co-founder of a kibbutz in the Galilee, where he started experimenting with photography as a means of documenting communal life. Bar-Am covered the 1956 Sinai War and was later taken on as a staffer for the Israeli Army magazine Bamachane. This image, made after he left the publication, was shot at the end of basic training at the women’s army Training Base no.12 at Tzrifin, the central base of the Israeli Women’s Corps. “I happened upon this lovely and colourful fashion show happening in front of the bulk of monotonous Khaki-clad young soldiers,” remembers Bar-Am, “The contrast was smashing, and the real show was followed by a mock fashion show by the soldiers themselves, in which the parade ground doubled as catwalk.” Like so much of Bar-Am’s documentation of Israel and the conflicts that have seized the region, this image reflects an eye for contrasts and contradictions – a combination of the personal and the political, the brutal and the beautiful.

Few photographers can claim to have documented Israeli life as extensively as Micha Bar-Am.

Born in Berlin in 1930, Bar-Am’s family relocated to Israel, then Palestine, in 1936. He was drafted in 1948 and served in the military during the Arab-Israeli War of the same year, his first of many experiences on the frontline. Bar-Am had started taking photos of life on kibbutz in the early 1940s, but it wasn’t until after his military service, and several other odd jobs, that he became a professional photographer.

Through the 1950s and 60s, Bar-Am covered various conflicts and news events in the region, including the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the trial of Adolf Eichmann and the Six-Day War of 1967. This portfolio of conflict photography, including a book released during this time, Across Sinai,  helped to make his name, and in 1968 Bar-Am became a Magnum Photos correspondent and took a post with The New York Times as the paper’s Israel correspondent.

Much of Bar-Am’s work with the Times focused on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the toll of decades of war on the people of the region. Of his time photographing these years of unrest, Bar-Am has said, “Everybody has their reasons why they go to wars. It is definitely very attractive to be called into dramatic situations with a possibility to come back with dramatic images.”

Bar-Am supported Cornell Capa in founding the International Center of Photography in 1974, and became the curator of photography at the Tel Aviv Art Museum in 1977.

Military service is mandatory for 18-year-olds in Israel, and the country is one of just a handful where women are not exempt from conscription. This image was taken in 1974 at the central base of the Israeli Women’s Corps, which had been a British Army camp during World War II. Entertainment is occasionally laid on for recruits, and this photograph shows just that: a makeshift fashion show in the middle of the base.

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