Shooting Israel / Between Israel and the West Bank
He came here believing in a two-state solution, but after living here for four years and photographing West Bank communities, Nick Waplington 'learned that this is nonsense.'
Nick Waplington speaks openly about his addiction. "I am an obsessive. I am an addict. I know I have to get away from it but what can I do? I love technology," he says in his very British English. Every day he publishes between 10 and 20 new posts on his blog (http://nickwaplington.co.uk ). Even when he is painting in his studio, he isn't able to set aside his computer.
"While the paint is drying," he relates, "while I am painting, I am posting an update on my blog. And when I'm out, of course, I always take my computer or iPhone with me."
Works by Waplington, an admired British artist and photographer, are featured in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and in London's Victoria and Albert Museum, but he does not neglect the 20,000 monthly visitors to his Internet site, to which he uploads new photographs daily.
"I take between 100 and 1,000 photos a day. Life is short and you have to manage to do as much as possible," he explains during a recent conversation, immediately displaying his latest work. "Yesterday, for example, I was in a Bedouin cave near Sussia in the southern Hebron Hills. I pulled out my phone, I took pictures and from inside the cave I uploaded a picture to my Facebook page with the inscription: 'Hi everyone, I am in a cave at Sussia.' It's terrific."
In 2007 Waplington arrived here at the invitation of French photographer Frederic Brenner, who brought him into the "Shooting Israel" project. Originally the Briton planned to stay here for half a year, but he ended up staying for four years - right up until just a few weeks ago. He made his home in the Abu Tor neighborhood of Jerusalem and from there easily entered and exited the West Bank and its communities, which were the subjects of his photos.
Waplington took the picture that appears here at the Tekoa Gimmel outpost in the Etzion Bloc. The family in the photo was documented a short time after they moved into their new home. The photographer spent a large part of his time in Israel taking portraits of this sort, roaming among the outposts and the settlements in the West Bank.
"I didn't have an agenda. I came to Israel with a very open mind and I wanted to see what would come out of this. For a long period, I'd get up in the morning, take the car and drive to where the wheels took me," he says. "It was important to me to tackle not only the political aspects, but also the aesthetic beauty of this land."
However, living here and rubbing shoulders with settlers and Palestinians also influenced his political views, he adds. "When I came here I believed in a two-state solution. Over time I learned that this is nonsense. There is no such solution and there never will be. This is one country and that's how it will continue to be. Each of the two peoples want the other to leave here, but you will have to find a way to live together. Without separating."
Waplington was born in 1970 in the city of Aden in South Yemen. His family had moved there because of his father's work as a nuclear scientist. When he turned 18 Nick discovered that his dad was not his biological father. His real father, he learned, was a Jewish businessman he had never met.
"I am half Jewish. My father's mother was Jewish. That's one of the reasons I came here. The fact that genetically at least I am as Jewish as most of the people here was a sufficient reason for me to come," he says with a smile.
His sense of humor and cynicism are also evident in his photos. One of his most remarkable ones depicts a road sign in English, on which the first letters of the words "West Bank" have been transposed to "Best Wank" ("wank" is British slang for masturbation ). Beneath it appears the distance: 24,868 miles. He positioned the sign on the roof of a building opposite the U.S. Embassy in Israel.
"The distance," he says, "is the number of miles between the American Embassy in Tel Aviv and the West Bank if you travel in a westward direction" (i.e., the other way around the earth ).
This was his way of protesting the way the United States relates to the conflict in the Middle East - from a distant perspective, alienated from the real situation on the ground. This photo, along with other works from the years he spent in Israel, is now on display in Waplington's exhibition at the See Studio in London, which is entitled "Long Way Back to Nowhere: New Works from the Holy Land."
A recurring motif in the work he did in Israel was "water heaters," as he called them. He says he found them at dumps outside the settlements, where Palestinian children play and the adults look for useful things. For him, these boring, everyday objects were a symbol of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The settlers," he says, "who are better-off economically, discard their broken things. The Palestinians, for their part, often have to recycle them and repurpose them."
The settlers "heat the water in their homes using the heaters," he continues. "The Palestinians make ovens out of them. The Bedouin use them as a drinking trough for their sheep. Others turn them into barbecues. Soldiers told me there are also Palestinians who fill them with explosives and make anti-tank devices from them."
He gave the used heating tanks he collected from settlement dumps to a Palestinian he knew in the Abu Dis neighborhood of Jerusalem, who painted them and created works of art. These too are now being exhibited in London. Thus, in his unique way Waplington has attempted to make a social-political statement regarding these two peoples sharing the same land.
Another of his works is entitled "Metamorphosis," after Franz Kafka's story. It was inspired by the affair of Kafka's contested estate. Waplington used old sewage pipes from an outpost to sculpt a bug-like creature similar to the one the Czech-Jewish writer described in his story. Waplington says that in making the work, he was pondering what Kafka would have thought about Zionism in the wake of the trial concerning his estate, now under way in Tel Aviv. Accompanying the sculpture are a number of imaginary letters that might have been found in Kafka's estate, which is being stored in several bank vaults in Tel Aviv.
Last week, in an exchange of e-mails from New York, Waplington promised to come again. "I am sure I will return to Israel. I will always return there, as long as I live," he wrote. "I don't know what the legal status of half-Jews is, but if I could I would make aliyah and try to get a piece of land in the West Bank."