parade - Ronen Rothfarb - January 7 2011
Boy at a parade. Fighting for a nation's image. Photo by Ronen Rothfarb
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This handsome boy has a tangled, bushy head of hair adorning a face that is no longer childish, but yet still far from maturity. The photo was taken by Ronen Rothfarb two weeks ago Friday in Rabin Square, at the parade for International Human Rights Day. The parade was organized by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and this boy, like thousands of others, along with representatives of 120 organizations that strive to promote tolerance, walked from the new, white, bold Habima Square down Ibn Gvirol to Rabin Square with its crooked tiles. When Noam Rotem got up to perform his song "Help is on the Way," the first raindrops of what was to be a big storm came down.

This is a boy whose beauty is waiting to ripen, and his face belies a drama of worry and embarrassment, thought and concentration, determination and wonderment. And not only the boy, but the photograph itself awaits its ripening: It does not function as a record of a human rights demonstration, although other photographs by Rothfarb from that same event are more illustrative, showing the asylum seekers who took part in the parade, along with young women, and families carrying signs, and children riding on their parents' shoulders.

The photograph, in essence, is a study in color: the faded burgundy of the upper part of the shirt on the boy's broad and slightly slumped shoulders; the patch of green visible from the T-shirt underneath; the riveting turquoise of his eyes, as if taken from the depths of the sea; the faded khaki of the shirt of the young man behind him: and the edges of the long red curly hair of a woman whose face is not seen. This interplay of color is also a reflection of the relationships in the photograph: between the age of the boy at the center, whose pale face still bears some red bursts of acne that will pass in time, and a more mature version of him, in the form of the hazily glimpsed young man behind him, whose shirt is already past its prime, whose face is adorned with a black beard, whose curls have receded and whose teeth are bared in a smile.

This is a photograph whose subject ignites emotions, on whom much can be projected, even if he himself does not ask for this. Rothfarb is not asking the boy to model anything. And the boy is not aware that he is being photographed and is not trying to project anything. On the contrary, the concerned, serious and deeply thoughtful expression that furrows his brow has the run of his face, and he cannot stifle it. This is a photograph in which the color burgundy, characteristic of Caravaggio's paintings of young men, stands out. This is a photograph that identifies something it cannot deal with, and perhaps is not interested in dealing with.

But the gaze in this photograph cannot be empty. It is Tadzio from "Death in Venice," whose beauty provokes a barbaric outburst; Thomas Mann's youth to whom art returns as a subject again and again. And in a much deeper, modern and clear way, this is the boy who was photographed at the march for human rights two weeks ago in Rabin Square. He is the boy fighting for the image of the nation whose future depends on his ideals. The boy fighting for the survival of a nation that mustn't close itself off and fence itself in and remain isolated and maintain a separation between the rulers and the ruled, between citizens and sub-citizens; a nation that, if it wishes to live, cannot persist in screening and branding and hating.