Snapshot: Three Photographers Remind Us of the War We’ve Managed to Repress

On the works of Yotam Ronen in Sderot during Operation Protective Edge, Anne Paq who focuses on Gaza, and Abbas al-Mumani, a Palestinian photographer for news agencies.

Tal Niv
Tal Niv
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Yotam Ronen, 'Direct hit by a Qassam rocket in Sderot,' July 15, 2014.
Yotam Ronen, 'Direct hit by a Qassam rocket in Sderot,' July 15, 2014.
Tal Niv
Tal Niv

1. A stunningly beautiful woman. A young mother. Long curved fingernails, in two colors and adorned with gems. Red earrings. Dangling clusters. Her intense gaze, her striking outfit. Plastic, gold ring, diamond ring. Narrow waist. Her gaze piercing through hair covering her eye. A beautiful young woman, whose portrait, since it was taken on July 15, 2014, in Sderot, during Operation Protective Edge last year, sustains this photograph and thrusts it forward in time. Not only as a depiction of the site of a rocket strike that shattered the glass of a door – it looks as though it was hit by bullets – but as an additional, multi-detailed depiction, located on a grid where there are more vectors, such as “south,” “Mizrahi” and maybe “Russian,” and in any event expressing the relationship between the attire, the fashion, the design, the hair colored raven-black, the self-examination one needs to conduct when looking at her, the judgment.

Compliments are sometimes a form of judgment. There are vectors in this photograph by Yotam Ronen; the frame is deftly divided by the door, which no longer separates interior from exterior. This photograph is on display this weekend at the Jaffa Theater as part of an exhibition by the Activestills collective, a group of local and foreign photographers who relentlessly and independently, parallel to the news agencies, document violations of human rights.

This is a good frame, a good shot – it appeared on the cover of the online magazine The Archive – because of its formal relations between yellow and black, and between vertical lines and horizontal lines, and because the woman, she herself, is strong against the background of the damaged surroundings, punctured, perforated, pocked.

The background of her story begs to emerge more insistently from every viewing of her image. She’s holding her car keys, her phone and also her little girl. The girl can already walk – she’s wearing orange plastic shoes; her ears are perforated, she wears small earrings. And braids. A baby bedecked. Like Mom. Does she have sisters? A family? Is this a first child? Where does the mother work? The light from behind falls on her shoulder. What’s happened in Sderot since the war? It’s been absorbed like a stain on the ground.

2. Anne Paq, French photographer, member of the Activestills collective. Her focus is Gaza. She takes pictures there. Where there are no Israeli photographers. Her viewpoint is interesting, even if its aim is to “educate” the viewer. This photo, which is also part of the Activestills exhibition, is the first in a series that she shot last September, in which she placed children in their devastated bedrooms and asked them what they miss most. From the documentary-photography viewpoint, this is a staged project. From the reality viewpoint, it’s reality. The real thing.

I had a look at her website: photographs from New York in 2005, from Gabon, from Berlin. And from Gaza. The New York shots show signs of separation. “No Entry.” Shots of poor people. Protesters. A photo of a woman from an Indian dynasty. Educative but not precise photos. Like this one, of the children. And the man in a chair amid the ruins. The sun on the left. Searing. Paq stands behind the children, looking at them looking. She stands behind them and peers with them through the opening that was created in what remains. Shabbiness, poverty, dirt; a clear disparity between childhood – a condition of building and wonder – and the ruins.

This shot, then, has transparent, or clear, ideological aims; and a general execution. It’s not “good.” It is what it is. But so, too, the facts are the facts. We need to know. And not forget. The children. The hundreds.

3. In this photo is the Israeli soldier. It was taken by Abbas al-Mumani. A Palestinian photographer for news agencies. The viewpoint: the soldier with weapon at the ready, tilted upward. A bit off-center. Behind the concrete barricade. The partially erased letter, or number, looks familiar. Too familiar, actually. This is a shot taken by someone who’s gazing at a soldier who isn’t “his”; he’s not afraid of him, but isn’t close to him, either. On Memorial Day on kibbutz we cried copiously. Tears. The songs on the radio. The war last summer. People no longer mentioned the election. The chairs had to be folded, stacked.

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