Photos Worth 1,000 Sorrows

The eighth annual 'Local Testimony' photojournalism exhibition at the Eretz Israel Museums depicts the drama of everyday life in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The "Local Testimony" journalistic photography exhibition provides a panoramic view of the reality in Israel and the Palestinian territories over the past year. As anyone who has lived here during this period knows, the reality is harsh, powerful and ever changing. Looking back at the year in photographs, some big events now seem almost nostalgically outdated, while others feel urgently relevant.

In its eighth straight year, “Local Testimony,” once again brings the most compelling journalistic photographs of the year together at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. This year, 6,500 photographs were submitted to the competition and reviewed, without the photographers’ names attached, by a panel of judges. Roughly 200 photographs were chosen in eight different categories: news, urbanism, community, religion and faith, daily life, sports, nature and environment, portraiture and art and culture. The photographs are now on display individually, in series and sometimes alongside video works.

The exhibition's curator is Moran Shoub. She notes that this year’s collection focuses on painful moments in people’s personal lives as much as big news events.

“In almost all the works, the Israeli situation can be found, which I think in recent years has been of a burning urgency," says Shoub. "The refugees are found everywhere, housing evictees, the tent encampments, in every category these things are found, whether in news, urbanism, daily life or portraits.”

Haaretz: Do you think the exhibition is harsher this year than it was in previous years?

"I think it’s very, very pretty," says Shoub. "One of the most beautiful series of photographs I've seen in recent years is found in the exhibition, the photo series by Daniel Tchetchik, the Haaretz photographer who photographed refugees waiting in line for food. Despite the difficult and painful topic, it's a strikingly beautiful series, with black skies and a complete story told through the frames."

Shoub points out the great responsibility of photojournalists.

"The photographers go into the field, accompanying housing evictees, refugees, etc., and afterwards return to the stories," says Shoub. "In an era when everyone with a cellphone camera is a photographer, this actually strengthens the importance of photojournalism as a profession." She adds, "Reality doesn't come to photographers, instead, they go out into the field to look for it, and follow it under every condition."

"Drama is much more photogenic," says Shoub. "In every beautiful photo there is drama. Even in the silence of nature, what holds the photographer and causes him to take a photograph, what later catches the eyes of the judges and finally the viewers is the drama in the frame. Even in scenery photos, which at first glance seem just simply beautiful, there is a story. Sometimes the story is in the eye of the beholder, but it's always there."

In addition to the eight main categories, Shoub also created a collection around the theme of homelessness. While mostly made up of photographs sent in to the competition this year, it also includes some commissioned photographs.

"I felt that a theme grew out of the works," says Shoub."Again and again, the figure of people lying in the street appeared. Palestinian laborers from the Palestinian Authority getting up at the crack of dawn to head to work, sleeping on the pavement next to border crossings, refugees stretched out sleeping, homeless people. It’s the experience of being strewn on the ground not by choice or because the public space belongs to you too and you choose to lie there, but of being strewn about like a worthless object."

The exhibition is being presented during an especially charged period after a military operation and ahead of the elections. As a curator concerned with social issues, do you have any secret ambition that the exhibition will foment change? Doesn’t it address an audience beyond the traditional exhibition-viewing crowd?

"Yes, certainly," says Shoub. "The ambition is to raise public awareness. Photographers have an obligation. They take it on by committing to tell a story that is happening through pictures. They were there when it happened."

She continues, "Our responsibility as viewers is to observe and learn about the lives of others. Some will choose afterwards to take an additional step and try to change the reality, but at the very least the exhibition invites viewers to take responsibility and learn about what is happening around them."

"Local Testimony" and "World Press Photo." The exhibition opened December 6 at the Eretz Israel Museum, located at Haim Levanon St. 2, Tel Aviv. Exhibit hours: Sunday to Wednesday 10 A.M. to 4 P.M., Thursday 10 A.M. to 8 P.M. (the Ethnography and Folklore Pavilion is open until 4 P.M.) and Friday and Saturday 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. Entrance fee: NIS 28 to NIS 42 for adults. Free for children under 18 years old.

Uri Sadeh
Uri Sadeh