Shahar Dekel should be finishing his film degree. Instead, the Kibbutz Nahal Oz native has become an unexpected chronicler of army life, sharing photos on his Instagram account that document his days at war as an IDF reservist.
A music video maker and hobby photographer, before the war most of Dekel’s photos were of friends gathering and models posing. That all changed on October 7 when he was called up for military service.
It was by chance that Dekel and his girlfriend were not at Kibbutz Nahal Oz on the morning of the attack, but many of the couple’s friends and neighbours were killed or taken hostage. Nahal Oz was one of the worst affected areas in the Hamas attacks.
With only the clothes on his back — flip-flops, shorts, a T-shirt — and his trusty camera, Dekel arrived at his IDF base.
He tells me: “I’d never taken photos as a reservist before. I always wanted to take my camera, but I was worried it would break. Now I knew it was the real deal, I had to take my camera with me, it was the only thing I had.”
Dekel’s lens captures the mundane — moments of shaving, showering, and brushing teeth — and the profound, occasions such as marriages and prayers. He offers an portrayal of shared humanity. In his own words, he captures the essence of this unfiltered reality, asserting: “We are first people and then we are soldiers.
“The moments that I love are the moments that show not the heroic soldier, nor the tank, but the humanity inside the war.” He hopes these photos will “make the world see through my eyes. We are just simple people who want to go back home to our friends, children and wives.”
People around the world have connected with Dekel’s photos. He started posting them “to show family and friends that we were OK” but his followers have grown from 2,000 to 30,000 since the war started.
They show the men he calls his “brothers”. “We do everything together,” he says. His comrades initially questioned the presence of a camera during wartime, “At first it was weird, because we were at war, and they were like ‘what the f**k are you doing?’” he says. “But now they smile and want to send the pictures back home. I think they like it.”
Timeless in their black and white aesthetic, Dekel’s photographs look like they could have been taken in 1973 or 2023. They do not show the Gazan people, or scenes of fighting. Their focus is the IDF.
Whether it’s a farewell between a young couple or the joy of reunion:“I want to capture a feeling,” he says.
Despite his evident talent for front-line photography, Dekel says he “doesn’t want to go to another war” but adds: “If I must go to war again, I will take my camera.”
For now, Dekel is still fighting Hamas on the front line.
His girlfriend helps him write the photo captions for Instagram, and he hopes one day, when the war is over, that his pictures could form an exhibition or book.
“We just want to live in peace,” he says. Then, perhaps, Dekel can go back to filming music videos and taking photos of friends at home.