|About Local Testimony|
|“Local Testimony,” a regional exhibition of photojournalism, runs concurrently with the annual “World Press Photo” exhibition that features international press photographers. The local exhibition first appeared in 2003 and has since drawn thousands of visitors each year, as well as hundreds of thousands of entries in the “Local Testimony” website. The latest venue for the exhibition is the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv where it is considered a major cultural event in the field of Israeli photojournalism|
|Messengers of Reality|
|The land is the same, the conflicts are the same. In a kind of undying and relentless ceremony the photographers venture into the field, looking for the next iconic photograph. The thousands of photos submitted this year to the competition prove once again that the photographers have not tired of their mission and continue to serve as witnesses in localities and at events that have become transparent, and which we find far easier to ignore.|
In some ways Local Testimony is a retrospective of the year’s events: the intensification of efforts to free Gilad Shalit, the Gaza flotilla, evacuation of the Bedouin village of al-Arakib, deportation of the children of foreign workers, demonstrations of the Left in Bilain protesting against the Separation Fence, conflicts between the establishment and the ultra-Orthodox factions, demonstrations in Sheik Jarach, etc. However, one should not conclude that the media report “covers” all the year’s events, nor does the exhibition allege to accord them full presentation.
When a photograph is published in the media it becomes a document, a chronicle. The photograph attests to the event. In the vernacular, the verb “to see” often means “to know”: we did not see, therefore, we did not know; with saw with our very eyes, i.e., we knew.
The photographs that were sent to the competition were organized in ten categories among them: news, politics, religion and faith, culture and art. This classification is somewhat artificial. Quotidian reality is far more complex and is not organized by the criteria of categories. The classified photographs of Religion and Faith, or Daily Life, for example were often taken from news events, or vice versa.
Press photos always appear together with a mediating text which imposes meaning and interpretation that are not free of manipulation. Separating a photo from the text enables freedom from verbal linearity and a transition to the photograph’s timelessness. Now, the documentary photo is open to new observation, new interpretation, and the suspension of our gaze.
The transformation which the photographs underwent after being accepted, and their exhibit in a museum space, expands the scope of our gaze. The new physical presence, the new choice, the new continuity – all these attest to the fact that the photograph has a new life and additional possibilities. Removing the photo from its initial context postpones its demise.
What is there about a particular photograph that causes it to move from one stage of the competition to the next? What is there about this particular picture, and not another, that echoes and reverberates in our minds? Beyond the content matter, the aesthetics, composition, colorfulness, photographic angles, we have a collective cultural memory. Thus, for example, gazing at Daniel Bar-On’s photograph which depicts a man carrying Emily Henochowicz, an injured peace activist at the Qalandia Checkpoint during a demonstration in protest of the IDF seizure of the Gaza flotilla ships, arouses our Israeli collective memory, bringing forth another picture – the historical photo etched on our national memory as the symbol of the 1974 Ma’alot disaster. Despite the fact that when the IDF broke into the Ma’alot school the photographers took hundreds and thousands of pictures, only one became a symbol - the one photographed by Yisrael Semionsky. The picture shows Galil Maimon running while carrying his sister Zippi in his arms. In both photos the images are detached from the arena of events and positioned in the center of the frame. Paradoxically it is this detachment that intensifies the atrocity. Both photos refer to the image of the Pietà, which is stored in the collection of the Western world’s cultural images. The Pietà is a general name for artistic works describing Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. Connections of this kind intensify the power of the photograph.
Today everyone has a camera. Everyone takes pictures of varying dimensions with digital cameras, cellular phones, or videos in real time. In fact, almost every event is exposed to the camera lens. Everything is photographed and eventually will be publicized. Photos that are uploaded on Facebook today will be the next news item tomorrow. Mass photography has launched a battle between professional and amateur photography. The criteria set by newspapers for publishing photographs have faded out in view of the unlimited possibilities that the Internet currently offers. The innovativeness of visual information is the only criterion.
“But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to essence...”
Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, preface to the second edition, 1843
|From Altneuland to al-Arakib|
This year, for the first time, the curator of the Local Testimony exhibition was given the opportunity to focus the spectator’s view on a statement based on the exhibit’s photographs. As the curator of Local Testimony 2010 I regard this as a chance to compare this year’s photos with those of previous years that deal with the same topic. This curatorial choice is particularly pertinent in view of the choice of Amit Sha’al’s Altneuland as the series of the year. The title, Altneuland, takes us back to Theodore Herzl’s utopian novel published in 1902. Altneuland (old-new country) was written in German and translated into Hebrew as Tel Aviv.
Sha’al sets out on a journey in the steps of old photos of Eretz Israel’s images and sites. In each of his photos he juxtaposes an old photograph with the concrete reality of today. This type of comparison is always fascinating, as it gives us an in-depth view of the changes that have taken place. Almost automatically the eye begins to search for and identify the differences between the pictures – what has changed since then, what is missing, what has been added, what changes people and the passing time have made to the place or to the people in the photographs. It is like looking at a family photo album, which shows photos of children alongside photos from later periods of life. The pictures make it possible to see the changes that have taken place, or, perhaps, how one’s history affects one’s features.
The American photographer Nicolas Nixon photographed “The Sisters Brown” series, beginning in 1975: year after year he has photographed his wife and her three sisters. The traces of time are apparent in the photos – new lines, the changing character of the gaze directed at the camera, an assortment of gestures, and the changes that have taken place in the hierarchal order of the four women.
In order to create the gaze “that is seeking change” I chose to present in the statement exhibit a series by Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander, who documents the struggle of al-Arakib’s Bedouins after their homes were demolished and new buildings were put up (2010), vs. photos of Bedouins taken by Walter Zadek in the 1930s, Boris Carmi in the 1960s and 1970s, and Beno Rothenberg in the 1950s.
Over the past year, the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Arakib has made the headlines several times. Its residents claim that they have been living in the area long before the founding of the State of Israel; in the early 1950s they were evacuated, but were promised that their evacuation was only temporary. Their land was given over to the IDF as training ground.
The prolonged dispute escalated when the Jewish National Fund began to plant trees near al-Arakib. In response, the Bedouin inhabitants began to build stone buildings on the land. Since then repetitive demolition has been carried out by the law authorities, while the inhabitants continue to rebuild their huts and shacks. The Bedouins’ relentless battle with the authorities has become a symbol of preserving the nature of Bedouin life and their lands in the eyes of all Bedouins.
Zadek’s photographs shows three silhouettes of Bedouin women carrying jugs on their heads. The images are standing erect and fill the frame against the background of the signs of civilization. We cannot discern their facial features which are hidden behind veils and jewelry. On their heads, a tilting jug, and above them, an oppressive grey sky. In Castelnuovo’s photo three Bedouin women support the foundations of a new building that, like the phoenix, rises time and again. The women convey tenacity, similar to the six women statues (caryatids) of the Erechteion on the porch of the Acropolis in Athens. In the photo they are seen as an inseparable part of the skeleton of the building-to-be. The wooden planks and the women are one. The building’s frame also serves as a frame for the demolished building that can be seen in the center of the photo. The eye wanders from the women to the pile of debris. The women’s clothing has remained almost unchanged over the years. But reality has.
In Castelnuovo’s photos of the Bedouin children a helicopter is seen circling above the ruins in a dusty red sky, creating an apocalyptic feeling. Below, the children are perhaps walking, perhaps fleeing. Behind them is evidence of raging destruction.
The Bedouin children in Carmi’s photos are far from the camera, but nonetheless they see it and respond to it. Through his lens Carmi immortalizes a moment of silence. The children, the donkeys, and the sheep in a pastoral atmosphere seem as if they have been engraved unto the landscape. The feeling is the Carmi’s photographed reality was there before and after the moment he snapped his camera.
It is interesting to reflect on concepts such as ‘home,’ ‘temporariness,’ and ‘wandering,’ in the context of Bedouin vs. Western culture. Castelnuovo’s woman is dressed in black; she is in the center of the photo carrying planks of wood for rebuilding – a kind of symbol of life replete with hardship and struggle; her back is to the camera and her face – toward the landscape. The photo is reminiscent of the images representing Christ’s last walk, carrying the cross. The landscape is revealed through the image and behind it. Once again, the same pile of debris. At the far end of the photo, a new and temporary building. The garish blue plastic sheets that cover the new buildings are prominent in the landscape and glare into the eye. The landscape is monotonous; plastic bags and bottles blot the landscape and mark the time. The present.
In Carmi’s photo the tent is traditional: a black spot, which does not attract the eye at first glance. An inseparable part of the landscape. The eye wanders from the lake to the black spot, to the mountains that merge with the clouds, and to the traces of man and beast in the landscape.
In the juxtaposition of past and present photographs one can also discern the differences that have taken place in the documentation methods of press photographers. In the past, as the photographs of Carmi, Zadek and Rothenberg show, the gaze was anthropological and documented the Bedouin way of life, while Castelnuovo offers a gaze that documents the struggle. In the past, the people in the photographs did not hide their excitement in front of the camera, in stark contrast with their candid indifference today.
Galia Gur Zeev