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Dafy Hagai's "Israeli Girls"
Merav stretching in her highschool gymPhotography by Dafy Hagai

Israeli Girls

A new coming-of-age photography book is shattering the perception of Israeli Girls with its gang of ‘cool’ teens

Photographer Dafy Hagai has got this whole female self empowerment thing down pat. In a nod to her own coming-of-age in Israel – a place so often soaked in horror stories from the Gaza Strip as over a decade of tensions continue to simmer – Hagai's new book Israeli Girls captures a gang of youths from her hometown, poised on the cusp of adulthood in an Americana-teen tinged summer dream, transported to the dusty streets of Tel Aviv. But behind the cheeky smiles and nostalgia-inducing snaps, essentially, Hagai, who is often surprised to hear that people expect these girls to be covered up and conservative, is championing a generation of females exploring their sexuality, body ownership and the beauty of girl power amongst an uncertain political and social climate. Below, we chat to the photographer about the project as we showcase a selection of images from her just released book.

What’s the concept behind your new book Israeli Girls?

Dafy Hagai: It actually started out as a zine, in which I tried to show suburban Israeli youth culture. I live in Israel, and grew up as an Israeli girl in a small suburban town outside Tel Aviv, and this is pretty much the way my childhood looked. I thought most people don't really have an image of how youth culture looks like in a place like Israel, and especially when you think about girls and sexuality, so I wanted to show that. These girls are young, teenage, suburban and cool. 

How did the project come about?

Dafy Hagai: The idea for the book started when I met Jurgen from APE at the LA Art Book Fair, where I was showing my Israeli Girls zine, and he asked me if I'd be interested in making it into a book, so I continued shooting the project over the course of six months. I know the girls from a bunch of different places; some of them are friends, some I stopped in bars and some I met scouting at my old high school. I was looking for girls who reminded me of what I used to be like when I was growing up. I shot all over the suburban parts of Tel Aviv and the center of Israel, looking for places that didn't have a distinct cultural look and reminded me more of those American teen films that I had seen growing up.

Are there any political messages embedded in the pictures? Some of them are quite provocative...

Dafy Hagai: It’s more of a cultural statement than a political one. For the most part, Tel Aviv and the center of Israel aren’t conservative or religious, so these are just girls dealing with growing up, learning about their body, ownership and sexuality. These girls aren’t that different from girls growing up in Jersey, but it’s funny that people are surprised to see Israeli girls the way I shot them, as if they were supposed to be more modest or religious! 

“It’s funny that people are surprised to see Israeli girls the way I shot them, as if they were supposed to be more modest or religious!” – Dafy Hagai

You’re a big advocator of self-publishing female photographers, last week you organised an all-girl table called Girlfriends at the NY Art Book Fair, why is it so important to you?

Dafy Hagai: It’s super important for female photographers to self-publish so they can share their ideas and aesthetic perceptions. The female gaze is starting to become more of an interesting subject than ever before, and by self-publishing you’re no longer dependant on other people to promote your work. It’s also very easy now to self-publish online, we do it all the time through our social media platforms like Instagram and Tumblr.

Do you look up to any self-publishing females? If so, who in particular?

Dafy Hagai: I’m a fan of Valerie Phillips and her zines. I know there are a lot of self-published online magazines and platforms, like Girls Get Busy and other cool all-girl publications, too.  

What does “girl power” mean to you?

Dafy Hagai: Doing whatever I think is right for me without making compromises that are gender related. Collaborating with other girls so we can create communities and platforms where we can promote and support each other.

Israeli Girls is available for purchase from APE.