Pic­ture this: Lo­cal Tes­ti­mony

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By BARRY DAVIS

The Lo­cal Tes­ti­mony (Edut Mekomit) ex­hi­bi­tion cur­rently on dis­play at the Eretz Is­rael Mu­seum in Ra­mat Aviv is, by all ac­counts, do­ing pretty well. On a per­sonal note, that proved to be some­thing of a dou­ble-edged sword. When I went over there to see the out­sized prints, I had to work hard to get a view of the ex­hibits and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing wall texts, be­cause the place was sim­ply in­un­dated with groups of school stu­dents and adults – plenty of en­thused in­di­vid­u­als.

The con­tin­ued suc­cess of the lo­cal press pho­tog­ra­phy and video show­ing, which has been hosted at the above in­sti­tu­tion an­nu­ally for the past 17 years, is both sur­pris­ing and nat­u­ral. The lat­ter stands to rea­son be­cause the prints on show run the gamut from stun­ning, shock­ing, al­lur­ing, ex­cit­ing, mov­ing, dra­matic de­light­ful, thought-pro­vok­ing and much in be­tween. Then again, aren’t we con­stantly bom­barded with im­ages of all vis­ual and emo­tional ilks, on­line, and – still – in phys­i­cal pub­li­ca­tions? Surely, by now, our nerves and emo­tions are more than a lit­tle frayed at the edges, and we are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly de­sen­si­tized and, at least, con­sciously obliv­i­ous to the ac­tual drama of life about us.

Cu­ra­tor El­dad Re­faeli says there is no short­age of in­ter­est on the pro­fes­sional side of the tracks, ei­ther.

“There were around 7,000 im­ages sub­mit­ted for this,” he notes.

But the goal­posts have shifted. It seems that themes that were once con­sid­ered “sexy” and hot vis­ual prop­erty are grad­u­ally fad­ing into the back­ground of pub­lic con­scious­ness for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons.

“If I only re­late to the pho­to­graphs that were sent in, there is no Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict any­more. It just doesn’t ap­pear in the pic­tures. Out of, say, 6,500 im­ages, only eight – eight – were about that.”

Does that mean that, in­deed, that as­pect of the re­gional en­mity has cooled, or have we just be­come bored with see­ing the same old shots of, for ex­am­ple, IDF sol­diers tak­ing cover be­hind a wall while Pales­tinian youths hurl stones in their di­rec­tion, or Pales­tini­ans flee­ing as Is­raeli sol­diers lob tear gas at them? Re­faeli puts the dearth of vis­ual doc­u­men­ta­tion down to more pro­saic rea­sons.

“They don’t go to all sorts of places in the ter­ri­to­ries be­cause, first, free­lance pho­to­jour­nal­ists, who make up the vast ma­jor­ity in the field, are afraid to go there. Sec­ond, they haven’t got any­one to sell their pic­tures to.”

That is a mat­ter of sup­ply and de­mand, with the ac­cent on the lat­ter.

“News­pa­pers like Maariv, Ye­diot and Haaretz are not so in­ter­ested these days, and send fewer pho­tog­ra­phers there, so you see less of what’s hap­pen­ing there.”

Clearly, this is not just a case of not hear­ing a tree fall in a for­est.

Re­faeli does go along with the no­tion that most of us have been over­ex­posed to grip­ping, shock­ing and tit­il­lat­ing shots.

“We don’t get emo­tional about

any­thing any­more,” he de­clares. “To­day, it is all about the in­ter­est of this news­pa­per or the other, in the [Is­raeli-Pales­tinian] con­flict has van­ished. There may be some peak, such as a war or a lethal ter­ror at­tack. Then events in the ter­ri­to­ries come to the fore again. But that’s it.”

THIS YEAR’S cu­ra­tor says he was ea­ger to stir things up a lit­tle, and se­lected a new jury of sea­soned pro­fes­sion­als from the fields of pho­tog­ra­phy, cu­ra­tor­ship and the me­dia to plow their way through the thou­sands of en­tries, which were taken by some 356 pho­tog­ra­phers. As usual, the im­ages were di­vided into a num­ber of cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing news, na­ture and the en­vi­ron­ment, re­li­gion and faith, so­ci­ety and the com­mu­nity, sports, ur­ban­ism and cul­ture and the pho­tographed story. Spe­cial awards were made for Photo of the Year and Se­ries of the Year.

Re­faeli’s jury ap­point­ment phi­los­o­phy was de­signed to try to off­set the thrill weari­ness fac­tor.

“I chose these peo­ple be­cause I know they are very sen­si­tive,” he states, adding that he aimed to shake up the gen­eral pub­lic, too.

“I changed the look of the ex­hi­bi­tion lay­out with dif­fer­ent dis­play for­mats. I have a lot of re­spect for the pho­tog­ra­phers and their work. Cu­ra­tor­ship is im­por­tant, but first and fore­most, the work of the pho­tog­ra­phers is the most im­por­tant.”

One of the dan­gers of such ex­hi­bi­tions is the very na­ture of the items on dis­play. They are, af­ter all, pho­to­graphs, shots gen­er­ally taken at light­ning speed that are li­able to hold the viewer’s in­ter­est for an equally fleet­ing mo­ment. Re­faeli tried to com­bat that hit-and-run ethos by in­tro­duc­ing a new sec­tion that re­lates sto­ries rather than anec­dotes.

“I am very proud of hav­ing ini­ti­ated the Long Ex­po­sure cat­e­gory,” he says. “That in­vites ac­tiv­ity that is not snap­shot-ori­ented.”

The wall text con­veys that suc­cinctly. “The sub­jects ap­pear­ing in Long Ex­po­sure have an ev­ery­day, maybe even hum­drum char­ac­ter: peo­ple or ob­jects that we see in ev­ery­day life, at the pool, by the side of the road, on the beach, in dif­fer­ent ar­eas and along bor­ders. The pho­tog­ra­pher’s way of look­ing at things, with at­ten­tion and sen­si­tiv­ity, helps us, the view­ers, pay at­ten­tion to de­tails, focus our glance and take a hard look at things.

“This is not about a newsy ap­proach,” Re­faeli points out. “As far as I am con­cerned, cap­tur­ing news im­ages is about you and me. Any­one with a smart­phone can get snaps like that. The chances that you will be on the spot with your phone, just as some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary hap­pens, are much greater than a news pho­to­jour­nal­ist be­ing there at the time.” Fair point.

That given, Re­faeli was look­ing to im­bue Lo­cal Tes­ti­mony with sig­nif­i­cant added value in the bot­tom line, re­gard­less of the means.

“The re­spon­si­bil­ity of this ex­hi­bi­tion has to be artis­tic. When I am asked why peo­ple shouldn’t take pic­tures with their tele­phones, I say I don’t have a prob­lem with pic­tures taken on a tele­phone. That isn’t the prob­lem. The ques­tion is how you take the pic­ture, what ap­proach to take, how you ob­serve the sub­ject, and what you ex­press in your pho­to­graph.”

There is an abun­dance of ex­pres­sion in many of the Lo­cal Tes­ti­mony ex­hibits that, as be­fit­ting the work of a pro­fes­sional cu­ra­tor, are ar­ranged in in­trigu­ing se­quences and con­texts. A strik­ing case in point is a pic­ture of young haredi

boy near a fire where the last crumbs of hametz are be­ing burned on Passover eve. It is, af­ter all, a pretty mun­dane an­nual oc­cur­rence, but the pho­tog­ra­pher caught the young­ster with an anx­ious look on his face. It might just as well been the scene of some ter­ri­ble tragedy. Real es­tate pro­fes­sion­als are wont to in­tone “lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion.” The pho­tog­ra­pher’s ver­sion would be “con­text, con­text, con­text.”

RE­FAELI SAYS the ma­jor themes in this year’s ex­hi­bi­tion are the so­cial as­pects of life and, nat­u­rally, the two gen­eral elec­tion cam­paigns we en­dured in 2019. Politics is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a sexy area of life, and the Pho­tog­ra­phy of the Year fea­tures Avig­dor Liber­man caught in a pose that could be con­strued as ap­pre­hen­sive or de­ter­mined. Ei­ther way, it makes for com­pelling view­ing, as do the rest of the prints across their cat­e­gories, themes and sub­texts.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, ecol­ogy and hu­mankind’s in­roads into its nat­u­ral sur­round­ings makes its pres­ence felt in sev­eral works. Eyal Fried’s Se­ries the Year cat­e­gory win­ner “Mono/Men­tal” por­trays some of the dam­age we wreak on Mother Na­ture in our back yard in a some­what com­i­cal but no less stark, man­ner. And there are quite a few chill­ing re­minders of the global en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis in the World Press Photo sec­tion.

Re­faeli ob­serves that, in the afore­men­tioned area of our lives and the ex­hi­bi­tion, as our per­ceived level of sen­si­tiv­ity con­tin­ues to drop, the doc­u­menters have their work cut out for them to grab our at­ten­tion, and to make us sit up and think. So, how far does the cu­ra­tor think the pho­tog­ra­pher needs to go? Are we al­ready into the realms of vis­ual pornog­ra­phy where the gloves are per­ma­nently off?

“I think my job as a cu­ra­tor is to ask ques­tions. I don’t al­ways have the an­swers,” he says. “I can only say that, in the Is­raeli sec­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion, there are lots of ques­tions about that. I am not against show­ing ter­ri­ble things, be­cause I think they have al­ready be­come a part of us.”

Even so, Re­faeli does feel we can still make our choices.

“Luck­ily, we can still con­sider what kind of world we want to build around us, but all these things are part of our world. We can opt not to see them, but they are there.”

Lo­cal Tes­ti­mony runs un­til Fe­bru­ary 8. For more in­for­ma­tion: www.eret­z­mu­seum.org.il/ www.edut­mekomit.co.il and www.world­pressphoto.org

‘We don’t get emo­tional about any­thing any­more’

(Pho­tos: Pho­tog­ra­phers men­tioned)

ILAN BURLA’S shot of the IAF fly­over on In­de­pen­dence Day suc­cinctly cap­tures some of the con­trasts in Is­raeli so­ci­ety.

BEA BAR KALLOS’S Cu­ra­tor’s Choicewin­ning work, in the Na­ture and the En­vi­ron­ment cat­e­gory, forms part of a pro­ject in which fam­i­lies were por­trayed sur­rounded by the do­mes­tic plas­tic waste they cre­ated in the course of a sin­gle week.

Clock­wise from top: LIOR PA­TEL’S drone pho­to­graph of a pros­trate horse near Hadera For­est won the sin­gles sec­tion of the Na­ture and the En­vi­ron­ment cat­e­gory.

(Ro­nen Has­son)

TOMER YATZKAN, cap­tain of the Ilan Ra­mat Gan Wheel­chair Bas­ket­ball team, cel­e­brates win­ning the na­tional cham­pi­onship.

HAMETZ BURN­ING in Bnei Barak looks like a se­ri­ous, if not trau­matic, busi­ness. (Ilan Burla)

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