This article was initially published in Portfolio Magazine in Hebrew on October 25, 2023. It was translated into English and edited by Art Spiel. This publication in Art Spiel is in collaboration with Portfolio Magazine.
Photographer and photojournalist Roee Idan preferred to aim his lens at capturing the quiet drama of nature rather than the fraught tension along Israel’s borders—the first anemone bloom, the winter streams of the northern Negev, the majesty of flash floods in the desert, and the joy of bathers on the beach in summer.
Yet, in a harsh twist of irony, his final photographs were taken on the harrowing morning of Saturday, October 7th, at the onset of the conflict: images of Hamas infiltrators entering Israel while missiles casting plumes of smoke over his home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Swiftly delivered to his longtime colleague Matan Tzuri at the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth these photographs became his unintended tragic farewell. These were possibly the first photographs of the invasion.
Idan’s kibbutz, situated on the frontline of the Gaza fence, was a place of continuous military confrontation, especially acute during the successive rounds of hostilities in recent years. Roee Idan and his late wife, Smadar, grappled with the enduring challenge of preserving a sense of normal family life for their three children amidst the omnipresent danger emanating from Gaza. Despite the inherent urgency in his profession as a photojournalist, Idan’s priority during conflict escalations was his children’s security. He ensured they were moved to a haven before he focused on chronicling the unfolding turmoil.
Roee Idan frequently exhibited his photographs in Local Testimony—a regional photojournalism exhibition for photographers from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, held every year since 2003 in the Eretz Israel Museum in the Ramat Aviv neighborhood of Tel Aviv. Dana Wolfiler Lalkin, the director and founder of the venue, observes that, in hindsight, Idan’s 2019 series, The Return Marches, foreshadows the unfolding tragedy. In these ghostly grayscale photographs, which now seem like an apocalyptic prophecy, Idan has captured the sequence of mass protest marches undertaken by Gazans from March 30, 2018, until December 27, 2019. These marches were held along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel. Were called ‘The Great March of Return’ by the Palestinian demonstrators. Roee Idan devoted considerable time to creating this work independently, driven by a need to stay connected with the events at the Gaza fence. “He needed to be in touch with what was happening there on the Gaza fence, to follow and document,” Wolfiler Lalkin says.
Idan also brought his passion for photography to his classroom at the art school Camera Obscura in Tel Aviv. Yanai Yifrach, the school’s principal, remembers Idan’s modest, quiet approach to teaching and the meticulous preparation he dedicated to each class. Idan relished his role, often arriving early to sit with students, guiding them with a personal touch, and sharing his knowledge generously.
On October 7, Roy Idan’s life was cut short at 43. His wife Smadar was murdered while defending their three-year-old daughter, who was abducted to Gaza. Their other two children survived, hidden for hours in a closet during the Hamas attack on their home. The stark contrast between Idan’s serene images and the violence that ended his life is a poignant reminder of the fragile beauty he sought to preserve through his photography.
All photos by Roee Idan
About the writer: Anat Or Magal is a multidisciplinary artist focusing on figurative oil painting and quick sketches inspired by her global travels. She also engages in independent collaborative and sociocultural projects worldwide while lecturing, writing, and exhibiting her work.
Update: Avigail Idan, Roee and Smadar Idan’s daughter was abducted as hostage by Hamas after witnessing her parents’ murder. She spent her fourth birthday under captivity. On Sunday, November 26th she was freed , as one of the hostages Hamas released under a deal with Israel.