Former army helicopter pilot Duby Tal so identifies with the albatross that he named his aerial photography company after the rare bird and soared to success.
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s an albatross. Veteran helicopter pilot Duby Tal couldn’t allow all the skills he acquired in the Israel Air Force to go to waste. With a second helicopter pilot, Moni Haramati, he founded Albatross, Israel’s most well known aerial photography company, world-renowned for its daring and stunning pictures that capture the nature, cities and changing landscape of various countries. While it’s one thing to see the ground view of a country, it’s another thing altogether to see it from the air.
Stills by Albatross appear in magazines, exhibitions and books published all over the world. The company publishes its own books, produces documentary films for television that are screened on National Geographic and PBS and films for corporations, all characterized by high levels of creativity and quality.
Albatross has produced exhibitions for Israel’s foreign and tourism ministries and documented many major projects on the Israeli landscape, including the controversial Highway Six. In the US, galleries such as the Y Gallery in New York City, the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Empire State Building have all exhibited its work.
It’s almost impossible to say which of his photos is his absolute favorite, but Tal, the company’s managing director, tries to whittle the choice down to two – one from New Zealand taken just as it started to rain, with the drops appearing golden; and another from the Dead Sea, his choice shooting location in Israel.
“When there is good light, that’s what makes the story,” he tells ISRAEL21c. But at the Dead Sea, for him the beauty lies in the bittersweet knowledge that this ancient body of water is in fact dying right before his lens: “The Dead Sea is special,” says Tal. “Part of the reason is because it’s dying. Between the two lakes [or two parts of the sea] which are today the Dead Sea,” he says, “It’s changing its color and its look.”
Using the blades for nature activism
Whenever he flies there, no matter how short the time in between, Tal is aware of changes as his chopper swooshes over the retreating colorful salt beds.
The situation is frustrating for this nature-lover, so to raise awareness of the sea’s impending demise Tal has mounted an exhibit about the Dead Sea, which is currently on display simultaneously at four different locations, in Costa Rica, Austria, China and the US. “The Dead Sea is very beautiful but very sad. It’s really vanishing,” he laments.
“I can see the change before my eyes, and have made a book about the Dead Sea, which I hope will help in the fight for preserving it,” he says earnestly. “I hope it will help keep it alive.”
Not constrained by aerial photography, Tal also shoots pictures from the ground, taking a fresh look at businesses, ancient civilizations, modern cities, and people. Albatross, based in Herzylia on Israel’s central coast, is considered the country’s best aerial photography company and boasts the largest and most varied stock of aerial and ground photographs from the region.
Tal was born in 1955 and started flying choppers in the Israel Air Force when he was 18, the age when most Israelis begin their army service. He went on to serve as a search and rescue pilot during some of Israel’s most dangerous wars, including the First Lebanon war. After his mandatory service, he also served in the reserves for 20 years.
Combining two passions
Tal studied geology and photography, graduating with an undergraduate geology degree, cum laude from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He studied photography at Camera Obscura in Tel Aviv, and not long after being accepted for PhD studies in geophysics at Stanford University in the US, Tal decided to drop out of school and switch professions. He looked to merge his two biggest passions – flying and photography.
Albatross employs nine people. Formed in 1988, the company is named after the rare, white, web-footed bird that lives in New Zealand and other regions, in areas that are far from civilization. It was the albatross named Orville in a 1977 animated Walt Disney feature film that gave Tal the idea for the name. The movie called The Rescuers is about two white mice that work in parallel with the United Nations to help people.
In the film, Bernard and Miss Bianca, the mice, travel around on the wings of Orville the albatross. “It’s a funny and unique film that I saw 30 years ago,” says Tal. “I fell in love with the old albatross pilot.”
The married father of three lives in the suburb of Kiryat Ono, about seven miles east of Tel Aviv. He guffaws at the notion that albatrosses may migrate through Israel from time to time and concludes: “It is really a privilege to be able to do what you love. I am combining my two passions: flight and photography. In one way it’s hard – maybe it would have been easier for me to be a PhD in Silicon Valley – but my profession, like the albatross, is rare and unique.”