Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Girls of the IDF

Rachel Papo, an Israeli born in Ohio, presents a stunning photographic project titled after her own IDF serial number -- Serial No. 3817131.

Here is her story in her own words:

The life of an eighteen-year-old girl in Israel is interrupted when she is plucked out of her environment at an age when sexual, educational, and family values are at their highest exploration point.

She is then placed in a rigorous institution, where individuality becomes a secondary matter, making room for nationalism. “I solemnly swear…to devote all of my strength and to sacrifice my life to protect the land and the liberty of Israel,” repeats the newly recruited soldier during her swearing-in ceremony.

She enters the two-year period in which she will change from a girl to a woman, a teenager to an adult, all under a militaristic, masculine environment, and in the confines of an army that is
engaged in daily war and conflict.

I decided to portray female soldiers in Israel during their mandatory military service as a way for me to revisit my own experience.

I served as a photographer in the Israeli Air Force between 1988-1990. It was a period marked by continuous depression and extreme loneliness, and at the time I was too young to understand these emotions.

Through a series of images showing female soldiers in army bases and outside, individually or in groups, I attempt to reveal a facet of this experience that is generally overlooked by the global community.

Rather than portraying the soldier as heroic, confident, or proud, my images disclose a complexity of emotions. The soldier is often caught in a transient moment of self-reflection, uncertainty, a break from her daily reality, as if questioning her own identity and state of contradiction.

She is a soldier in uniform but at the same time she is a teenage girl who is trying to negotiate between these two extreme dimensions. She is in an army base surrounded by hundreds like her, but underneath the uniform there is an individual that wishes to be noticed.

I realized that although I was in a vulnerable emotional state during my service and thought of ways out of it, there was a certain level of acceptance involved.

The girls I encountered were so immersed in this lifestyle, in their new reality, and completely divorced from the outside world. How could I explain to them that what they are doing now will mean nothing in the outside world, yet will affect them for the rest of their lives? They have given up who they are for now; they have put their dreams on hold; their lives for the next two years have become a wistful compromise.

These thoughts and feelings constitute the frame of this body of work, and the core impulse for my decision to go back.

With this project I wish to seek answers to matters that were left unresolved, and to shed some light on a side of the Israeli Army that is less obvious and predictable and more vulnerable than the way it is commonly portrayed.


Rachel Papo is an Israeli who was born in 1970 in Columbus, Ohio but was raised in Israel.

She began photographing as a teenager and attended a renowned fine-arts high-school in Haifa, Israel.

At age eighteen she served in the Israeli Air Force as a photographer.

These two intensive years of service inspired her current photographic project titled after her own number during service -- Serial No. 3817131.

She earned a BFA in Fine Arts from Ohio State University in Columbus (1991-96), and an MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City (2002-05).

She began photographing Israeli female soldiers in the summer of 2004 as part of her masters thesis project. She continues to photograph in both Israel and New York, pursuing fine art photography and accepting commissioned projects. Her photographs are included in several public and private collections.

She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. Rachel is represented by Paul Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles, where her first solo show was recently on display.

You can visit Rachel's gallary at: and see more of her work at