How many roads
'Frames of Reality' exhibition.
One of the best known and most influential war photographs ever taken shows neither a soldier nor anyone dead, even though it portrays a terrible place where hundreds were killed. Roger Fenton’s April 1855 photograph “The Valley of the Shadow of Death,” the most familiar of his 360 images from the Crimean War, shows a dirt road strewn with cannonballs: small, black, round. It is an allegorical shot, in which the cannonballs stand for human heads and the furrowed road tells of the attack by the British Light Brigade in October 1854, the violent debacle that ensued and its preordained end under a Russian artillery barrage in the valley that leads to Sebastopol.
Fenton took the shot twice; once with the cannonballs massed along the roadside, once more after “he oversaw the scattering of the cannonballs on the road itself,” according to Susan Sontag in her book “Regarding the Pain of Others.” Fenton’s allegorizing was born of necessity: the British War Office instructed him not to photograph wounded soldiers, still less dead ones, lest he undermine morale. In 2007, the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris came to Fenton’s defense in a brilliant analysis in which he took apart Sontag’s argument and refuted it. Drawing on Fenton’s letters, Morris surmised that the photographer, far from strewing cannonballs on the road, had actually removed some of them. He also explained how Fenton’s photograph captures, contains, depicts and copes with human suffering, the horrors of war and the question of self-sacrifice.
There are no cannonballs, but a hirsute, natural dark line of weeds that furrows the clear though haze-shrouded road in this hypnotic photograph by Edward Kaprov. It will be on display starting tomorrow (March 31) in an exhibition titled “Frames of Reality” at the Amiad Center in Jaffa. These are mysterious cool mists of the Palestinian segments of Route 60, also known as the “Path of the Patriarchs.”
This is an alien, fraught, desolate place, its downtrodden beauty − encapsulated in the gash of weeds that thrusts from the asphalt − more natural and more powerful than any other force. This is a photograph whose political quality is sublimated, and it bears an astounding resemblance to several series of images taken by Kaprov (born in Russia in 1975; immigrated to Israel, 1992) on a trek of hundreds of kilometers from north of Moscow to the remnants of the gulags in the Siberian taiga. It’s a sensual image, in which the softness of the ribbon of weeds draws in the uneasy brusqueness all around.
The Jaffa exhibition and the accompanying catalog − both the impressively restrained work of curator Ami Steinitz − are the result of a joint Israeli-Palestinian photography workshop, held for the third time as part of the important annual press photography project “Local Testimony.” The more closely one peruses the catalog and the works of the 15 photographers who are represented − from the most personal work, like that of Vardit Goldner, who in the past photographed the demolition of a Bedouin village in the Negev but is now confined to documenting her chemotherapy treatment in the oncology ward; to travels with a donkey in a theatrical, marvelously funny and touching series by the Israeli Arab photographer Ammar Younis − the more one understands what it means to be in a situation of perpetual war. For clean water, mental tranquillity, justice, ongoing normalcy of life despite everything, always amid the cannonballs strewn on the road.