Photographer Shalev Ariel uses fashion to explore our understanding of beauty 

Photos by Shalev Ariel
Styling by Mor Pozniak
Words by Jessica Steinberg


For Shalev Ariel, photography has always focused on portraits, characters and faces, creating images that looked and felt exotic to him, an extension of his days as a serial classroom doodler, drawing and improving the characters he created in his mind.

He assumed he would end up traveling the world, taking portraits and returning with albums of perfect photographs, framing faces and places for National Geographic. Then he discovered that fashion photography offered the ability to create a platform and present his own artistic vision to an audience of viewers.

“I understood that I don’t need to fly to Africa or Mongolia to do that, and that it was much more interesting for me to do it as an artist, and not for a documentary film project,” said Ariel. “I use fashion as a tool to spread my ideas. I don’t really care about the fashion itself, fashion is just a way to communicate.”

In the “New Beauty” series, Ariel used his models and their fashions to turn the tide on the Renaissance period of the 15th and 16th centuries and what was considered idyllic beauty in those times. He created a family posing for a portrait in Renaissance times, while showing that our concept of what is considered beautiful has changed. At the same time, using the power of imagery within photography, Harel points out that society’s perception of beauty is fake, a product of manipulation. Instead, his portrait portrays a different representation of beauty, by using models who aren’t necessarily considered beautiful when seen on the street, in the course of life, but he manipulates their beauty as a photographer.

Ariel’s three models are all African refugees, spotted by Ariel in his wanderings around Tel Aviv. The seated model was working as a dishwasher at a Jaffa restaurant, with features that made him look ancient and world weary to Ariel. The other two models are younger, living more Israeli lives, having grown up in Israel and attended local schools. Ariel met one in a cafe, and the other is attending acting school. Together, the three now represent a Renaissance family in Ariel’s portrait.

“Now it’s my agenda to look and explore a deeper understanding of models and beauty and what’s the meaning of the person who is standing in front of me,” he said.