Gili Yaari photographs the Purim celebration in Ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem

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“Growing up in such an environment made me very sensitive to people’s emotional condition – whether it’s happiness, pain or despair. This has become one of my most important ‘tools’ as a photographer – for sure, it’s the most important driver for me to focus on photographing people.”

Yaari’s parents didn’t consider photography to be a real profession – like many of the fathers of those who make their living telling the stories of others. Perhaps it’s because his family was dispossessed of all their belongings during the Holocaust, including cameras, so for them, the images that remain burn only in their minds. “Maybe I was afraid of disappointing them, so instead of studying photojournalism after military service, I went on to study engineering.” And during the many years he worked as an engineer, he did “hardly any shooting at all”, he says.

But some 10 years ago, it all came flooding back: “My older brother had been given an old 35mm camera and some lenses for his Bar-Mitzvah. It was always there in the house, but he barely used it. One day I picked it up and started shooting. I started exploring photography passionately, shooting mostly still life initially, and then people. I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

The passion he’d felt the first time he held a camera, long suppressed after more than a decade of obligation and responsibility, reignited. “At some point, I started to feel that the work I was doing just wasn’t enough. My soul needed more and I started asking myself, ‘What do I really want to do?’ The answer was simple and immediate – photography.” And so, at 33, he studied photography in a masterclass with Israeli photojournalists Ziv Koren and Roni Sofer.