Picturing the Holy Land: 12 Photographers Chart a Region’s Complexities

Fazal Sheikh
Fazal Sheikh
Latitude: 31°18'50.23"N / Longitude: 34°40'57.80"E October 4 2011 Jewish National Fund planting of the Ambassador Forest, overbuilt in 2012 by construction of the railway to connect Ashkelon and Beersheba, The Negev

There are moments when photography can reinvent the idea of a nation and shape an age. The French Missions Héliographiques in the mid-19th century employed some of the first traders in the fledgling craft to systematically document France’s architectural and cultural patrimony—and what emerged was a startlingly modern blueprint of the past. Under the New Deal, the photography project that accompanied the Farm Security Administration saw the creation of myriad iconic images of rural poverty in America that have, for generations, defined the Great Depression.

Gesturing to this tradition, an ambitious new project called This Place, nearly a decade in the making, is the collective work of 12 renowned photographers, each of whom took up residence for a spell in Israel and the West Bank. They found their own way of reckoning with a land that is deeply contested and peoples who are irrevocably divided.

“Each artist has created a profound and personal narration of Israel and the West Bank,” writes curator Charlotte Cotton, in a statement, “that, collectively, act a series of guides, leading the viewer into a deeper identification” with the complexities and conflicts of the Holy Land.

Frederic Brenner, a well-known French photographer who came up with the idea for This Place, says the endeavor marks “something quite unprecedented” in terms of the scale of its vision and the terrain that it maps. “I try to look at Israel as place and metaphor,” Brenner recently told TIME.

The Holy Land is both the ancient, sacred home of three great monotheistic religions yet also carries with it some of the modern era’s greatest traumas—the memory of the Holocaust, the displacement of the Palestinians, the wars and enmities of the Middle East. But This Place is not an act of photojournalism, nor does it contain — or send – a clear, unified message.

“We want to look beyond the political narrative, not to ignore and not to bypass it,” explains Brenner. He and 12 other photographers set about their projects, starting roughly in 2009. The breadth of the enterprise reflects the range and diverse talents of the enlisted artists. New York-born Fazal Sheikh took to the skies and traced the ghostly outlines of Bedouin communities in the desert. The legendary Czech photographer Josef Koudelka journeyed along the Separation Wall that carves through the occupied West Bank. Wendy Ewald distributed cameras to 14 different groups to generate a remarkable participatory project of some 500 images, selected from thousands taken by members of these disparate communities.

Brenner says the experience was transformative for the photographers involved, many of whom for the first time had to come to grips with an environment as fraught and as riven with deep fault lines as Israel and the Occupied Territories. “I really look at Israel as a site of a radical Otherness,” says Brenner, “where every single person is the Other for somebody else.”

He hopes This Place offers something of “a mirror,” a lens to see beyond what separates and divides.


Find out more about This Place online, on Facebook, and Twitter

Ishaan Tharoor is co-anchor of WorldViews at The Washington Post


Related Topics: , , , , ,

Latest Posts

2014.  Gaza.  Palestine.  Schoolchildren head to class at the Sobhi Abu Karsh School in the Shujai'iya neighborhood. Operation Protective Edge lasted from 8 July 2014 – 26 August 2014, killing 2,189 Palestinians of which 1,486 are believed to be civilians. 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed.  It's estimated that 4,564 rockets were fired at Israel by Palestinian militants.

Inside Gaza with Photographer Peter van Agtmael

What photographer Peter van Agtmael encountered in Gaza changed the way he worked.

Read More
WASTELAND PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated December 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof.  No copying, distribution or archiving permitted.  Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited.     REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM.  Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing.        Mandatory usage requirements: (Please note: you may select 5 branded images for online use and 3 images for print/unbranded)1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image2. Show the December cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image3. Provide a prominent link to: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/12/superfund/voosen-textat the top of your piece, ahead of the photos 4. Mention that the images are from "the December issue of National Geographic magazine” GOWANUS CANALNew York, New YorkPollutants: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, lead, copperYear listed: 2010Carved from a tidal estuary 160 years ago, the Gowanus Canal is Brooklyn’s industrial artery—and a deeply polluted waterway. Even so, it’s frequented by herons, seagulls, crabs, and canoeists. Defying local fears of economic stigma, the EPA listed the canal as a Superfund site in 2010. It hopes to start dredging contaminated mud in 2016.

Photojournalism Daily: Nov. 24, 2014

Mideast Israel Palestinians

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 14 – Nov. 21

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 19,247 other followers