A young girl in pink lipstick pouts and stares straight at the camera. She pulls her hair across her face so that only her nose and mouth are showing. She is frozen in mid-dance, wearing a shirt the khaki-green of an army uniform.
Fourteen-year-old Patricia Gavrielov and her classmates from the Israeli city of Lod, along with 13 other groups of Israelis and Palestinians, started photographing their lives for an unusual project led by U.S. photographer Wendy Ewald.
Ewald, who embarked on this undertaking in 2008, gave each of the participants a digital camera and an invitation: to document their lives. The results – entitled "This is Where I Live," Ewald's contribution to the current exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art of photographs by 12 internationally acclaimed artists called “This Place” – constitute a fascinating collective portrait of Israel and the West Bank through local eyes.
Gavrielov’s photographs, which were taken four years ago, are bold and intimate. When their creator sees them today, she squirms. “That is so embarrassing!” she says on a visit to the museum to see the project, which has also been published as a book.
A pomegranate on Education Rd., by Nitsan from Kfar Giladi. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Ewald)
Tutti Frutti by Patricia from Lod. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Ewald)
Despite the various photographers’ very different backgrounds – they range from elderly Palestinian women in East Jerusalem, to Orthodox female army recruits, to the Romani community in Jerusalem’s Old City – similarities emerge in their work.
Universal themes like food, loved ones, flowers and fruit show up over and over in the works on display. Arab or Jewish, from the city or a kibbutz, the photographers focus on the little details that make their homes unique – whether framed family photographs or paint peeling in a corner of a room.
An untitled photo by Oshik.(Photo courtesy of Wendy Ewald)
Nabila at her wedding by Nadia from East Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Ewald)
They also photograph religious holidays. Christians from Haifa snapped a Christmas tree bedecked in bright baubles, someone in a Santa mask, a glass cross bearing a metal Jesus, shot from up close. Eden Daniel, 14, another Jewish participant from Lod who came to see the exhibition, captured her family lighting candles at Hanukkah.
There are differences, too. The Bedouin photographers are poorer than the most of the amateur participants, their homes emptier. The Tel Aviv photos are mostly of young singles' lives, of empty beer bottles and office spaces. The East Jerusalem pictures are a mix of intimate shots, political protests and settlers. The same is true for the photographs from Hebron.
For some, the camera became a political tool. Nadia, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, used hers to document what happened when settlers squatted in the house she built for her son in the city's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
A settler in Nabil's house in East Jerusalem, by Nadia. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Ewald)
East Jerusalem, by Nadia. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Ewald)"
In Hebron, Ewald encouraged the younger photographers to “photograph the injustices. This is a crucial part of their lives.” But she also wanted to give them the chance to photograph other things, she told Haaretz at the museum last week, “because they are constantly being asked to be spokespeople for the conflict.”
“It’s a clever way to take pictures of Israel,” says another Lod participant, Shoshana Kano, 14. Kano’s picture shows herself and a friend sitting back to back, tall apartment blocks gracing the skyline behind them. Seeing all the pictures together in the museum, Kano says she feels like the participants belong to one place.
“It looks like one country,” she says.
Photo by Nada, of Julis. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Ewald)
Field training in the IDF in 2013, by Aviad.(Photo courtesy of Wendy Ewald)
Fall Collection by Tal from Lod. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Ewald)
Patricia from Lod. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Ewald)