Ashdod dunes April 15, 2011 (Ilan Assayag)
Ashdod dunes, April 15, 2011 Photo by Ilan Assayag
Text size

In this marvelous photograph by Ilan Assayag, two teenagers are seen looking at the crater formed by the crash of a Grad missile in the Ashdod dunes on April 15. These are the faces of the future and the faces of hope − the girl and the boy who have been part of Hebrew culture and Hebrew iconography since Zoltan Kluger’s sublime photographs of young pioneers. But in this photograph, taken in 2011 amid the dune bushes in northern Ashdod, they are simple and present and fleshy and substantial, far from the wild innocence that is fated to crack, acquire knowledge and collapse − as embodied by Iris Yotvat and Assi Dayan in the film “He Walked in the Fields.” It’s closer to the frolicsome modeling of Bar Refaeli and Noam Tor seen in a natural setting in Fox commercials.

The girl from Ashdod is the pivot of the photograph. With her lovely thick dark hair, soft milky arms and a tricot dress that barely covers her ample figure, she observes the event, her left hand covering her brow and her presence hiding the boy, whose large dimensions are only revealed by the way his wristwatch pinches his flesh. And as they stand, as though in a watchtower, the girl’s hand, resting with a certain flamboyance on her hip, diverts the observer from the world of the youth movements in Kluger’s photographs to the world of cheap tricot dresses pictured on billboards. In this crack between two worlds, their stance in the dunes acquires a comic dimension; suddenly there is even a social aspect to the photograph. It is flamboyance wrenched out of context, a majestic gesture made in surroundings devoid of majesty.

Of course, these two are not responsible for the way their photograph is perceived. They are not responsible for the way their posturing under the broiling sun, between the clumps of bushes in the southern dunes, resembles one of the dark and powerfully expressive photographs in the social works of Tal Shochat or Adi Nes. They are not responsible for the gaze that Sharon Ya’ari, for example, casts at the edges of cities and their pathological unsightliness. They are not responsible for the way in which the aesthetics of advertising handles naturalism. Those are big words. All they did was leave the house just as they were to see the “scene of the fall.” A few hours later, they may have heard the mayor, Dr. Yehiel Lasri, state in a broadcast on local television, “Very fortunately for us, the fall was in an unpopulated area .... The firing brings us into the circle of the trickle of rocket firings at us ... We expect that the government of Israel and the IDF will act accordingly to put a stop to this shooting. It is impossible to go on like this.” Or maybe they will ask themselves whether they deserve to hear that it is impossible to go on like this. Maybe the girl and the boy deserve to hear that in fact it is possible to go on differently, and that despite and because of Israel’s superior strength, their government lifted the siege from Gaza and its imprisoned population and launched direct talks, and that they do not have to go to the dunes to see pits. There are prettier sights.

Next week: On the humanistic war photography of Tim Hetherington, who was killed on April 20 while with the rebels in Libya.