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Sivan Askayo

Photographer

Sivan Askayo

,

Location
Tel Aviv, Israel
Contact

Instagram: @sivanaskayo

Website: www.sivanaskayo.com

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On early memories of photography.

I’ve always loved photography. My father was a hobbyist, and he often had a camera with him. So, from an early age, I experimented with taking pictures, especially on school trips.

As I got older and when I joined the army, I stopped pursuing photography as a hobby. But when I finished, I had to think about what I would study at university, and I really wanted to pursue photography. My father was totally against it, claiming I wouldn’t be able to make money. “Go be a doctor; go be a lawyer; go be anything but not a photographer,” he said. I tried to convince myself that he made sense. And I also figured that if photography became my profession, I might not have an outlet purely for fun.

I went on to study advertising and communication, and I worked at an advertising agency in Israel. I was mainly on the buying side, negotiating media deals, and I didn’t pay much attention to photography. But in my 20s, I had this dream to move to New York, and I knew if I didn’t make the move while I was young, I wouldn’t do it later.

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I started researching ways I could get there, and I applied for a master’s degree in communications and marketing. My semester was supposed to start in January, and I was meant to move to New York in November 2001. But September 11 happened. I moved to New York two months after September 11 and began university. I clearly remember the first time I arrived. I took the shuttle from the airport to my sublet in the city, and we passed the ICP building—it was like a giant glass box. I didn’t know what it was all about, but then I saw the sign "ICP (International Center of Photography)". I didn’t think too much of it, and I simply got on with my work as a media buyer. I loved my work and wanted to revisit photography since I had just moved to a new city. I had a pocket camera, just like everyone else.

Seven years later, I was going through a tough time in my personal life. Incidentally, at the same time, my work permit had expired, but my company said they would sponsor me for a green card. It was an awful month, but I knew I had to stay in New York, especially since my company had agreed to sponsor me. In the process, I had all this free time, so I would grab my camera and take historic walking tours of the city. I figured if I live here, I must understand New York better. I remember taking pictures without necessarily paying attention to what I was doing. It was only when I came home and looked back at them that I realised all the places I’d covered. When I think about it, photography got me out of my head and helped me see my reality in brighter colours.

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On committing to photography as a career.

To further make use of my free time, I signed up for classes at ICP. I couldn’t do it full-time, but I took a lot of afternoon classes, and I became a teacher’s assistant. Walking in the corridors of ICP was amazing because everyone was talking about photography, and there were all these images taken by students hanging on the walls.

I think the turning point was when I decided to take a seminar on self-awareness simply because I was experiencing depression. One day, in the seminar, someone asked, “If you could choose your dream job, what would it be?” It was a meditative exercise where you really had to think about it. I thought, okay, I love to travel and write and take pictures, so I want to be a photojournalist or a travel photographer. They truly encouraged you in this seminar, pushing you to go for it if that was your dream job.

But this was also in 2008, and the economy crashed. At the time, I was doing media buying for General Motors, and the advertising agency laid off many people. I couldn’t go back to work, and I found myself in the same position again—no visa, no job. I needed to create a new reality for my career, a new path, so I decided to pursue travel photography seriously, and I continued to take classes.

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Next to ICP, two buildings down, was the Travel + Leisure headquarters. A lady came to lecture in one of my photography classes and she was a photo editor from Travel + Leisure. After the class, I approached her and introduced myself. I wanted to know if we could have a portfolio review. I can't recall exactly how it began or why she contacted me, but we had exchanged emails or Facebook contacts. On Facebook, she had seen a photo I had taken in Lisbon and invited me for a portfolio review.

Lacking any printed materials, I printed small cards with some of my pictures, and that's really how things started to take off. I would buy various travel magazines, search for photographers I respected and admired, and reach out to them. I asked for tips and the possibility of sitting together to review my pictures. To my surprise, even some of the more renowned photographers were willing to meet with me, offer guidance, direct me, and help me make connections.

I also began writing my own blog and sharing photos there. On one occasion, while in Lisbon, I posted some images on social media, and a person working for the Portugal Tourism Board in New York appreciated my work and extended an invitation for a meeting. This was in 2012. He mentioned that Portugal's tourism efforts were struggling, and they needed someone like me to capture Portugal through photography. This was quite similar to what influencers do today.

From then, I participated in press trips, and after establishing solid relationships, I was sent to visit a different region of Portugal every year. Magazines noticed Portugal's growing trendiness, and owing to my extensive contacts there, I became the go-to photographer for articles featuring Portugal.

Travel photography has allowed me to showcase the positive aspects of life, the luxurious side. It's about selling the dream of a particular place. It has played a significant role in my recovery from bad times and has helped me to see that life is indeed beautiful, and so is the world. I've made numerous contacts and forged many connections.

Ultimately, my passion for photography culminated in my dream job and profession. It's come full circle.

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On hustling and going after what you want.

I certainly wasn't shy, and maybe being a foreigner in the country helped me. Sometimes, as a foreigner, you act boldly simply because you're unaware of other ways to behave. I wasn't rude, but I was direct. I would contact photographers whose work I admired, telling them I was just starting out, and I asked if they would mind reviewing my portfolio. Some people declined, of course, while others agreed. Occasionally, I would compensate a few photographers for their time and advice, as I valued their expertise.

My style continues to evolve, and I'm constantly learning. I enjoy photographing details, like a unique drawer in a room, the furniture, the flowers, and so on. I believe this has helped me stand out. In the past, hotels often hired architectural photographers, but as I began to focus on lifestyle photography—capturing not just the room but its overall ambience—I found I could convey a more artistic impression, adding more soul to the image.

Many people ask about my style, and while I struggle to define it, my friends say they can recognise my work instantly. It's challenging to describe, possibly because it's always evolving. When I'm asked about what draws me to a photograph, however, I would mention colours—vivid colours, textures—elements that infuse life into an image, giving it dimension. I like to think that this is what I bring to my photography: not just a flat image but one that has texture through colours, light, and shadows.

From my experience, the most important advice for beginners is to build a solid portfolio and maintain a website showcasing only your finest work—less is more in this context. To succeed as a travel photographer, especially for hotels, you must also understand the business side of things. It's not just about taking photos; it's about understanding the people involved, the hotel's values and mission, and the story they want to tell. Hence, marketing objectives are essential. But much of it boils down to networking. So, take plenty of photos, reach out to photographers you admire, and ask for advice openly. There's always something new to learn, and working with various clients has taught me a great deal. I gain a lot from them, which helps me avoid getting caught up in trends. You have to be authentic to yourself.

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On social media.

When Facebook came onto the scene, it significantly boosted my work's visibility. Later on, I realised how pivotal LinkedIn was for building connections and reaching out to people. But I felt somewhat behind the curve with Instagram and its culture of gaining followers. I find Instagram to be fake, and it doesn't sit well with me. I often question the authenticity of influencer marketing, for example, especially within hotel PR, where endorsements can seem transactional—they're getting paid to write nice things, so it's hard to always trust.

There were times, not anymore, when I wondered whether being an influencer would lead to more work and photography projects, especially since many hotels now opt for influencers over professional photographers. These influencers arrive, fashionably equipped, and produce content that satisfies both parties. It's clear that the era when only magazine journalists were invited for press stays has changed, with hotels now inquiring about your social media reach. Having a substantial follower count increasingly determines collaboration opportunities, and it's a dilemma between personal values and industry trends.

At the end of the day, I'm not an influencer. The idea of being the centre of attention, in front of the camera, doesn't appeal to me. I'm much more at ease behind the camera, and I firmly believe that the focus should remain on the places I'm capturing, not on myself. It’s also clear that social media is influencing hotel design. I recall one time when I was touring a hotel I was going to photograph, and the general manager claimed how one of the walls was perfect for Instagram. It’s all about what’s ‘Instagrammable’. While it may not resonate with me personally, I understand its value from a marketing perspective—after all, user-generated content means free publicity.

As for TikTok, I don’t feel like I’m missing out, and I believe the younger generation think differently to me. They know better than me when it comes to these kinds of platforms. Speaking of generational differences, I think back to a discussion with one of my teachers from ICP. She was in her 60s at the time. And she was shocked when I mentioned working for exposure without immediate compensation, which contrasts her professional experiences. It just highlights the evolving nature of our industry—each generation has its own norms and practices. But I sense a growing fatigue with influencer culture. And I hope we’re getting there soon because social media as it stands, is tiring.

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On travel and hospitality photography.

Shooting assignments for travel magazines often combine food, portraits of people, landscapes, and interiors, typically featuring luxury hotels or restaurants. So I used to photograph a lot of hotels, even if it was brief.

When I moved back to Tel Aviv, The Norman was about to launch, and everyone was talking about it, but it was all quite secretive. I reached out to the marketing director, and we ended up having a meeting. I explained that I had just returned from New York, where my experience with magazines had given me insight into what they look for when featuring a hotel. I proposed that if I were to photograph The Norman, I could pitch it to various magazines. He was receptive to the idea, and during a subsequent meeting with the PR team from London, it turned out that one of the PR specialists knew many of the photo editors I knew. They hired me for an additional 26 days to shoot the hotel.

One thing led to another, and what I’ve photographed nine years ago in terms of what I knew about photography and hotels is different to what I know now. You certainly learn on-the-go. And you learn to deal with different people in the hotel industry, gathering information from key stakeholders to determine the approach for a photoshoot. There’s a lot of back-and-forth communication, whether by email or phone, with marketing teams, PR professionals, or art directors, covering everything from brand values to the target audience.

I usually try to find three words that encapsulate the essence of the hotel, which then guide every creative decision I make. And although the industry is changing over time, I believe I am improving alongside it. There’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve captured the true essence of a place and its atmosphere. That's what thrills me the most about hotel photography. I love the synergy with travel photography, where you must also capture other elements. There's nothing else I would rather be doing at the moment. And when I see my work featured in magazines, I cherish it. I absolutely love it.

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On memorable career moments.

With every assignment, there's a story. And there are so many standout moments, including the cover shoot I did for Travel + Leisure. They sent me to India to photograph The Leela Palace. I also had a St. Bart's assignment, which was amazing. It was my first time in the Caribbean.

Another major moment was when I was sent to shoot a hotel in the Galapagos. They waited for me for a year. Their marketing specialist contacted me, saying they wanted me to photograph their hotel, but I had just given birth three months prior and didn't want to leave my daughter. They said they would wait. And they waited for me for a year, after which they flew me to the Galapagos—a 24-hour journey from Tel Aviv. The fact that they specifically wanted me as their photographer was special, especially since they had reached out after seeing my work for The Norman.

I think we photographed for 9 days in a row, from sunrise to sunset. It was tough but so worth it. I think people glamourise the job of a travel photographer, but it can be tiring. The pictures look beautiful, but sometimes you're faced with far-from-ideal circumstances.

For example, there was a new hotel in Israel, the Six Senses Shaharut, which opened in the desert, but at the time of photographing, it was essentially a construction site. They needed the photos in advance to send to marketing and PR agencies, so you have to learn to improvise.

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I'll tell you a story about The Leela Palace. They suggested I photograph in the morning, around 5 am, to capture the blue hour. I had to photograph the hotel's exterior, but it's on a lake. There was a boat ready for me at 4 am, a small one, and we remained on it, waiting for the blue hour. The lake was full of bats. It was dark outside, and I remember standing on the boat with all these bats circling around me. But I had to get the picture. You can see the bats in the original image, but I removed them in Photoshop.

So it's definitely not glamorous, but I love it. It's a challenge and an experience. And afterwards, you have these fun stories to tell. By no means am I sipping piña coladas, holding my camera in the other hand. You know what? That's the difference between a photographer and an influencer. That's my take on that.


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Photographer

Sivan Askayo

,

Location
Tel Aviv, Israel
Contact

Instagram: @sivanaskayo

Website: www.sivanaskayo.com

No items found.

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