The photographer couple documenting other lovers at home
Rona and Ofek have spent the pandemic learning about relationships through their ongoing series, 'Us'.
Rona Bar and Ofek Avshalom are partners in both business and life. The two Israeli photographers live and work together in Tel Aviv. Their relationship began in March 2020 — peak strange and 'unprecedented' times — as countries around the world began announcing lockdowns. "The first day of the lockdown in Israel, it was our first day as a couple," they explain. The pair had met a year previous through work, but even still, their relationship has been unconventionally marked by the pandemic.
It was during Israel's first lockdown that they dreamt up their ongoing photo series Us. "We usually work with musicians, actors and do fashion photography, but all our commercial work stopped so we decided to focus on personal projects," Ofek says. With its title taken from the Regina Spektor song of the same name, Us sees Rona and Ofek photographing couples in their homes. "It was close to our hearts," Rona says. "We were inspired by our relationship and also this time of crisis, to create a really timeless project."
Us captures the vulnerability of couples in love, with the comfort and ease of being photographed in their own spaces. They sit together or hold each other in various states of undress, intertwined and, for a moment at least, safe from the pandemic that rages outside their door. Using natural light and finding lived-in corners of their homes -- anywhere from comfy sofas and unmade beds to kitchen counters and garden spaces -- the pair depict each relationship at its most comfortable and open. There's a familiarity to the photographs, which distil the everyday minutiae of life as a couple as much as the affection and warmth of being in love.
Rona and Ofek's process presents an interesting dynamic, with a close relationship playing out both in front of and behind the camera. "It's such an advantage that we are a couple ourselves because they can relate to us and we to them," Rona says. "We share that intimacy and want to celebrate and portray that romantic experience." Exchanging stories with their subjects -- who range from long-married duos to those newly together -- the project went deeper than just picture-taking. "One of the most interesting times was this juxtaposition between two couples that we shot on the same day," Rona remembers. "The couple in the morning, Karin and Rami, had been married for more than 25 years, they had kids and were living in a big house together -- super comfortable with each other. And in the afternoon, we shot a couple called Yarden and Max, who'd known each other for a month and just moved in together in this tiny apartment. It was amazing to see the different stages of the relationships and the magic in each one."
Shooting Yarden and Max was also a highlight for Ofek. "[Yarden] is a transgender woman, and I was completely surprised by how they let us into their home so comfortably, sharing this new relationship. They understood the project and trusted it – it was really special for us. I love the image that we made for them; I think it reflects their story perfectly, in a very simple way."
This diversity -- of age, gender, sexuality, race, body, ability -- was key to Us from the beginning. "One of the most important things was experiencing and witnessing love and acceptance that was beyond body image and other social norms. We wanted to show it in the most authentic way," Rona says, with Ofek adding: "It's also about letting go of the layers that define us as people, and seeing this vulnerability. Nakedness and seeing skin became quite important to the whole idea of the project."
Us is ongoing -- they are excited to shoot a couple in their eighties soon after we speak -- and as it picks up speed on Instagram, Rona and Ofek now find themselves being approaching by couples wanting to be part of the series. As it continues, the pair hope to photograph beyond Israel and eventually publish the series. "Every time we leave a couple's house, we feel so inspired and lucky to have this opportunity to capture and actually see other people's worlds and relationships and houses," Ofek says. "We couldn't do this without a camera."
All images courtesy Rona Bar and Ofek Avshalom