The Picture of Sensitivity

This picture tells us one thing: Rita feels the pain of Gilad Shalit's absence.

Rita has a face that's full of feeling. Powerfully expressive features. She has a face that refutes the Golden Ratio, which holds that symmetry is the divine aesthetic ideal. Rita's face is not symmetrical; it reflects the sum total of all that is known about her up to now, in conjunction with her ever-evolving image. The result is pure emotion.

Rita at the rally for Gilad Shalit
Itzik Ben-Malki

Rita was photographed by Itzik Ben-Malki at a July 3 rally for Gilad Shalit's release, at one of the stops on Noam and Aviva Shalit's march from Mitzpeh Hila to Jerusalem. Does Rita support the call for a prisoner exchange? Does she consider Shalit a POW, a prisoner or the victim of an abduction? What does she think about the release of Palestinian prisoners? Does Rita think the government is just letting Shalit languish? Perhaps. It's impossible to know for sure.

This picture tells us one thing: Rita feels the pain of Shalit's absence. In terms of the goals of the movement for Shalit's freedom, Rita's identification with the familial pain over his plight is more important than an analysis of Israel's prisoner exchange policy. Rita does not represent rationality - even if rationality, by the way, would have brought about Shalit's release long ago. What she creates and represents is emotion, and for the Shalit family this is the only choice.

So Rita sits in the audience, like one of the crowd, and listens attentively to someone on the stage, Noam Shalit perhaps. She clasps her hands. Behind her a woman is gasping in astonishment. Another woman adjusts the position of her glasses to get a better look. The man to her left pays "Rita" no mind as he absently lifts his hand to inspect some wrinkle on his shirt. This is no ordinary PR shot.

But for all Rita's efforts to be unobtrusive, she clearly stands out. She is "Rita." And though this isn't a performance, she has props. The signs of the struggle for Shalit's release become adornments on her body. A "Gilad is Still Alive" bumper sticker is plastered just below her shoulder. Yellow ribbons adorn the strap of her tank top, and there's also one for her hair. There is nothing sacred about the stickers or ribbons, of course, but with Rita, the costume is outshined by the person wearing it. She is the bulletin board that makes the bulletin superfluous. She cannot avoid self-decoration. Her sorrow here is genuine, but it's just her nature to be the highlight of the evening. She is a virtuoso of the display of feeling. Of making one's presence felt, of showing emotion. That's just how she's built. Which is why the focus of this photograph is not on the face: Not on Rita's look of pure hurt, not on her eyebrows raised in concentration, or on her beautiful hands, which could have served as models for Rodin. The focus of this photograph is on the curve of flesh peeking out from among the swaths of dark fabric. A glimpse of a whole different kind of vibrancy, no longer covered by any black scarf.