housing protest, Tel Aviv - 23.7.11
Demonstrators in Habima Square, Tel Aviv, July 23 2011. Photo by Oded Balilty
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Taking a picture from a distance is an art in itself. Taking a picture in the dark is an art in itself. But in this photograph by Oded Balilty, taken during the Habima Square demonstration led by the tent protesters, the distance, the source of the light and the reason for the crowd's presence create a delicate trinity. A meta-realistic quiet informs it.

This is an uncharacteristic photograph of the tent protests - because there are no tents in it - and uncharacteristic of images of demonstrations in general, because there is no visible confrontation with forces that are imposing order. Effectively, Balilty is perpetuating a traffic island at the edge of Habima Square, next to the old tree, at the corner of Huberman and Marmorek. Were it not for the banner "Dor Shalem" ("A whole generation" ) which is hanging in the bus stop, and the strange fact that two young people with dreadlocks are sitting on its roof and not on the bench - as though the bus stop's function and use had undergone a metamorphosis - it might be thought that this was some sort of artistic project, performance or festival. A white night.

Nevertheless, this photograph depicts a confrontation between worlds, a clash of values. Because the source of the light, which creates a chiaroscuro effect - as in paintings in which one candle illuminates the faces of the people around it - is a neon-lit poster advertising the H. Stern jewelry company which declares that a Dior watch can be purchased in its stores.

This is actually an ad within an ad, as above the H. Stern logo we see the original Dior ad and Charlize Theron - the woman whose mother killed her violent father, and who was plucked out of anonymity and became an Oscar winner herself - covered by only two objects: a black jacket and a diamond-studded watch.

This watch is so expensive that the H. Stern sales representative in Ramat Aviv mall was unwilling to say over the phone how much it costs. And why should she? After all, the rationale of the company she works for is to sell a feeling of uniqueness, one-timeness, apartness and superiority over others. Exclusivity. It is out of the question for the process of self-marking by means of an expensive object to be adversely affected by having the object's price made known just like that over the phone. It might even be rude to ask. Thus, the gulf that is created in this photograph assumes shape and presence before our very eyes.

The advertisement which casts light in the dark for the quiet group of people engaged in an act of social solidarity, whose demonstration is part of a spreading process of disillusionment, suddenly looks like a parody of the connection between consumerism and desire: It contains a naked woman who is also a highly regarded and successful actress who is selling a luxury product which in itself is supposed to be an object of desire, to those who can afford it and mainly to those who believe that, if they buy it, their standing in the social hierarchy will change. These jewels work on those who can't really buy them, they are a seal of wealth, an illusion, but one that the people around this advert have overcome. Their consciousness has been liberated from it. They don't want Dior diamonds. They are indifferent to Theron's promise, because they have woken up.