Gil Lavi Brings Brand Israel to Life

By Jacqui Palumbo

Developing a photographic brand for an entire country is more than photographing people and places, and portrait and commercial photographer Gil Lavi understands this concept profoundly. Through branding, he strives to develop a photographic language by understanding the spirit of the subject, and streamlining all elements into a distinct representation. When the Israeli government decided to execute the project Brand Israel, defining the country through imagery and developing the National Portrait Photo Bank, Lavi was approached by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to lend his expertise.

© Gil Lavi
Lavi says he shot this image to show Tel Aviv as the economical capital of Israel, a 24/7 city that never sleeps, and in a constant state of building.

Lavi was uniquely primed for this project, raised in Israel and serving as a military photographer for the Israeli Defense Forces before turning to commercial photography. He established a studio in Tel Aviv, taking on international projects, before relocating to New York City where he is based out of today. Lavi is widely recognized for his work, listed as one of the top 300 most influential Israelis under 40 by Forbes in 2009. In 2012, his photographs were exhibited at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery in New York, The New York Photo Festival, Israel's 2nd International Photo Festival and The Los Angeles Month of Photography. The 2012 International Photography Awards (IPA) honored him five times in the Fine Art, Lifestyle, Architecture and Panoramic categories.

Brand Israel was led by Ido Aharoni, Consul General at the Consulate General of Israel and New York, along with British agency Acanchi Country Brand Capital Development, headed by Fiona Gilmore. The project was years in the making before Lavi entered the picture, with studies executed to form the brand itself. “Israel decided to focus on public diplomacy, and to research the country’s values, personality and global potential,” Lavi explains. “I was hired to bring it to life.”

© Gil Lavi
A gay couple against the backdrop of the old Jerusalem. Lavi says, "The image represents modern, open Israel, a country full of hope."

In previous campaigns centered around Israel, Lavi felt that the country was photographed as if it were other parts of the world, more resembling parts of Europe. The output of color, lighting, composition and styling “had little connection between the imagery and the message,” he says. “[This] created a disconnect between the brand and its identity.” Lavi wanted to capture the modern, “energetic feel” of his home country, developing a visual language that would be recognizably Israeli, and deeply entwined with the culture.

© Gil Lavi
Tel Aviv's lifestyle and night culture on Rothschild Boulevard.

His creative process necessitated a number of steps, the first being to “understand the value of branding Israel,” he explains. Exploring the personality of the brand, and those who led the way in defining the brand, was critical to relaying a clear and distinct message. He then decided how to express the story by breaking down the concept into actions: “To convey, to connect, to initiate, to defend.” The brand’s personality was broken down into visual elements, including clothing, body language and movement. Lavi also focused on four different areas in which to place these actions and visual elements: food, beach, art and religion.

© Gil Lavi
Lavi took this picture during a religious holiday celebration, Purim, describing it in a "fun, energetic and beautiful way." 

It was important to Lavi to keep his photographs natural looking. “I chose to find people in their everyday attire in order to keep a pure and informal essence in the brand, searching for movement to find dynamic human occurrences in order to bring out brand elements like spontaneity, extroversion and energy,” he explains. In each moment, Lavi’s images look to the future of Israel, focusing on the country’s position as a leader in agriculture technologies, the economic promise of Tel Aviv, the energetic lifestyles that city dwellers enjoy and the changing social tides. Tying in all of his themes is a photographic language, a consistency through color, lighting, composition and mood that brings out the spirit of Israel.

For more of Gil Lavi’s work, visit his Web site.


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