Are These Pictures of Jisr al-Zarqa Political or Aesthetic?

The Haifa Museum of Art will showcase the work of artist, teacher and activist Ron Amir, who spent 12 years photographing the isolated Israeli-Arab community.

Artist, teacher and activist Ron Amir spent 12 years photographing the village of Jisr al-Zarqa, an isolated Israeli-Arab community of 14,000 souls situated on the coast between Caesarea and Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. Amir’s lens captured everything: individuals and groups, streets, holidays, events. Some of the shots were staged. All of it involved an integrative process of getting to know the community.

Beginning on March 8, the first of three exhibitions of Amir’s work will open at the Haifa Museum of Art. The shows are accompanied by a comprehensive, rich catalog in Hebrew, Arabic and English, whose articles locate the project both on the axis of Israeli photography – and its preoccupation with "the Arab" as "the other," and with his “meager” or “natural” milieu – and on the axis of theoretical developments in the field of contemporary photography.

Within the framework of the exhibitions, all of which are curated by Gilad Melzer – the other two will open at the Israeli Center for Digital Art, in Holon, on March 15, and at the Jisr al-Zarqa High School, this spring – the public will also be able to see photographs taken by high-school students from the village, with whom Amir worked.

Dr. Vered Maimon, from the department of art history at Tel Aviv University, writes in the catalog: “The power of Amir’s work lies in the way that it combines the art of the poor, the public art of the ceremonial photographer and that of great artists into a vibrating sensual mosaic of changing lights, bright colors, and tactile textures and surfaces. The aesthetic rewards his images offer thus reside not in the fact that he photographs the ‘misery of the world’ but, rather, in his insistence on its wealth. And it is an egalitarian form of wealth, one that, as Jacques Rancière argues, ‘everyone at all can become master of: that of catching the splendor of a reflection of light, but also of being able to speak in a way that is commensurate with one’s fate.’

“In this regard, the aesthetic power of the photographs is inseparable from their political one, and consists in the proposition, eloquently formulated by Antonio Negri in his ‘Time for Revolution,’ that ‘poverty is the opposite of wealth because it is the singular possibility of all wealth.’ It is the aesthetic and political possibility of wealth for all that forms the heart of Amir’s project.” (Haaretz Staff)

Ron Amir