Review: Ronit Bezalel’s Portrait Photography Captures the Essence of Human Nature

One of the most popular genres throughout the history of photography is portraiture. Even though it has been popular since the mid 1800s, it’s safe to say that in the last 50 years the general public has become familiar with the works of portrait photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Richard Avedon. And with the advent of digital technology, there has never been a time where so many portraits and self-portraits are produced on a daily basis. And because of this, many photographers are reinterpreting the age-old genre of portraiture.

And this leads to the current exhibition, Faces of Argyle, at Everybody’s Coffee, that showcases the work of photographer Ronit Bezalel. On display are 26 portrait photographs taken at the Argyle Night Market—a summertime weekly event that takes place in the Edgewater neighborhood, featuring food from Argyle Street restaurants and vendors as well as live cultural and musical performances.

Ronit Bezalel, Showtime
Ronit Bezalel, Showtime, 2022. Direct print on aluminum Dibond. Photo courtesy of the artist.

All the photographs were taken in the summer of 2022 when Bezalel made an artistic commitment of documenting the various people and scenes at the Argyle Night Market. In the end, Bezalel took approximately 1,000 photos and culling those photos down to just 26 for this exhibition proved to be quite a challenge. Bezalel was greatly aided by Chicago artist Riva Lehrer, who acted as curator and was instrumental in selecting the 26 photos

What is most impressive with the works on display is how Bezalel captures a wide range of expressions and moods even though these photos are portraits rather than candid street shots.  In some of the photos, she captures brooding looks such as in Cigarette Break where we see a young man in a wheelchair smoking a cigarette. And in Contemplation we see a close-up of a man who is in deep thought.

Besides capturing brooding images, Bezalel also captures elements of joy and exuberance of the human spirit such as in Showtime and Twinning where we see people dancing on the street with spontaneous joy. When looking at these photos, we can almost hear music playing and smell fragrant food being prepared on grills.

Ronit Bezalel, Contemplation
Ronit Bezalel, Contemplation, 2022. Direct print on aluminum Dibond. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Because Bezalel is a noted documentary filmmaker, she has that innate sensibility of not only knowing how to document people, but how to genuinely connect with people that makes them feel at ease in front of her camera. In many of the photos, her subjects don’t seem to be self-conscious and their expressions have a naturalistic quality, and if they are smiling, it’s not a forced smile.  

We are immediately drawn to many of the photos because Bezalel’s focus is on her subjects’ eyes. And when we look into the eyes of her various subjects, we cannot help but feel a sense of curiosity about their lives. And the longer we study a person in a particular photo, we unconsciously try to solve a mystery about who this person is. Our mind naturally begins to fill in the blanks about a particular person such as their family history, their occupation, and the joys and heartbreaks they have experienced in their lives.  

Ronit Bezalel, Mother and Daughter
Ronit Bezalel, Mother and Daughter, 2022. Direct print on aluminum Dibond. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Bezalel’s work also creates an instant impact on the viewer because she artfully frames her subjects where their faces draw our attention, causing us to linger and really study them more carefully. It is as if Bezalel has broken down an invisible barrier between the viewer and her photos, allowing the viewer to make a deeper connection with the people in the photos.

The strength of this exhibition is the candid and spontaneous elements that Bezalel captures through her photography. Her stunning portraits also convey the essence of human nature as it gives us a narrative about various people from diverse walks of life.

Faces of Argyle will be on display through August 31. Everybody’s Coffee is located at 935 W. Wilson. Hours: Monday thru Friday, 7am–4pm; and Saturday and Sunday, 8am–3pm. For more info, visit their website or call 773-303-6220.

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Thomas Wawzenek
Thomas Wawzenek