murder - Tal Cohen - June 24 2011
Scene of a murder in Jaffa, May 19, 2011. Photo by Tal Cohen
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Every photograph of a murder scene is simultaneously the depiction of a mystery and the possibility of solving that mystery. It shows what remains after someone has already been put to death, and documents traces of the murderer after he has already disappeared. It is always a photograph taken late. Besides being a constellation of clues, this clear, focused and powerful image taken by Tal Cohen at the scene of a murder on Shivtei Yisrael Street in Jaffa on May 19 also captures the underlying ambition of the investigator's work, stimulated by a crime scene: to identify, understand, and solve.

The weight of this photograph is tilted toward the right, toward the color blue, toward the crime-scene investigator who is bending over to look at something, while behind the tape almost all the police officers are already looking to the left, talking on the phone or huddling in a circle for a briefing. Similarly, the man in the center, who is dressed in civilian garb but has a name tag attached to his belt, is looking ahead. It is obviously midday - the investigator's shadow is radically short, almost a capsule of a shadow, the glistening of his blue overalls in the sun counterpointed by the glint of the knotted yellow ribbons that keep the covers of his shoes in place. Lying behind them, very close to the curb, is an empty shell; extending from it are two meteor-like trails of blood.

The investigator is attending devotedly to his work; the others have already turned their attention to other matters. He is the embodiment of the essence of observation, but he also an individual. He is wearing a skullcap. He is religious.

The victim, who was 23, was shot at about 11:30 in the morning on the street, in full view of everyone, as he rode by on a motorcycle. The bullets sliced through his helmet. Cohen photographed the helmet, which becomes a shocking representation of the young man, but in this broader photograph he avoids representations and observes the police, who came to the street in a very large force, so big that even the regional chief, Commander Yoram Ohayon, is here, along with the district commander, Major General Aharon Ekson, who only a few days earlier had celebrated his new appointment.

Crime reporters were told that the murdered man was involved in an underworld dispute and had been warned by the police that his life was in danger. However, he did not accept the police recommendation and, without protection, was killed. We gather, then, that there is less mystery about solving this case than meets the eye, that the police actually know a great deal and that their excessive presence might have a different purpose.

Thus, even though Cohen lucidly portrays a desire to solve the case, his observation also captures this excessiveness as well as, in the background next to a tree, a woman in a white hijab. She, along with other residents of the street and the city who have no protection against the surging daily violence, has been distanced from the crime scene for the benefit of the forces. A yawning abyss separates her hijab and the investigator's skullcap. In that gaping space lies an entire stratified world, despairing, astonishingly rich and frightening, of relations among the residents of Jaffa themselves, between them and the authorities and between them and rampant intolerance. Those who haven't yet seen "Ajami," the film by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, should do so today, and those who feel a sense of relief while viewing this photograph have never in their lives been afraid of policemen.