Blocks in the Desert

This is a photograph of a ghost camp below the Horn of Sartaba and its ruined fortress, north of the Dead Sea.

This is a photograph of clear blue skies, almost white, and of four rectangular concrete barracks, one of which has a cube - which may have been detached from it - leaning against it. The photograph, taken by Emil Salman on March 8 of this year, is of Gadi Base, near Moshav Petzael, in an area under the jurisdiction of the Jordan Valley Regional Council. It's a photograph of an inactive army base in occupied territory, Area C.

A few weeks ago, it was reported that the moshav movement has proposed making renewed use of the base, which the army closed in 2003. The idea is to establish a civilian settlement to reinforce the 7,500 settlers already living in the Jordan Rift Valley. They have an exclusive water supply and a highway, number 90. The settlers and their infrastructure act as a wedge, a "presence," preventing transit and filling the area between the Jordan River and Samaria, between a border and an ever-expanding non-border. All this in the midst of 70,000 Palestinians - the native residents of Area C, who see but are unseen, who have no construction permits for their own abandoned buildings.

Gadi Base
Emil Salman

This is a photograph of a ghost camp below the Horn of Sartaba and its ruined fortress, north of the Dead Sea. It's a photograph of a place that is held by the state but does not belong to the state, where the role of the citizens of the state who reside there is to continue soldiering by other means. It's a photograph from a place in the back of beyond. And it is a stunning photograph.

In recent years, Israeli photographers have seen the way army camps are forcing themselves on nature and on the consciousness and on all people and on life here and on the future. Shai Kremer, in his series "Infected Landscape," shows patrol roads, sites of urban warfare training, basic training running routes, firing zones, abandoned Syrian structures, burnt fields, battle arenas that fill the landscape. And from another direction, in a more gentle way and as part of a smart, multidimensional project, Dor Guez is now showing photographs at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art of the playgrounds in Jewish National Fund forests, built in a tower-and-stockade format, where little children are asked to play in these training facilities.

All this is present also in Salman's photograph, laid out for his lens: found in the arrangement of the large blocks; in the small cube, which perhaps needs a little push to straighten it out; in the dust that has settled, in the shades of yellow, in the battered trees, in the formalism of the army structures, in the way they alienate themselves from the blue. Still, Salman shot Gadi Base as part of a journalistic assignment, to illustrate a report about the intent to use it. So that the precision of the photograph, the fact that it is not artistically managed as part of a project - all this allows him to be understood in a clear, unadulterated way. Pure and disturbing.

There is no memory in this photograph. You can't hear in it conversations of friends or the shallow breathing of a guy who is texting overlong messages to a girl whose kisses dazed him. You can't hear the dripping of tears, or the gritting of teeth in frustration, or croaking from the wireless, or even the hum of silence and boredom. Because these structures have already forgotten the people who were in them. And they don't care about the people who see them. When all is said and done, they are a warning sign.