With the weight of an incredibly turbulent history upon its shoulders, Israel is a land which encompasses thousands of identities consequently making it difficult to define as a nation. To this day as it continues to struggle with conflicts such as religious and political segregation, Israel is perhaps one of the most widely misunderstood places in the world.
To shed some light, the idea for the project This Place was conceived. Its initiator Frédéric Brenner, the French photographer known for his extensive documentary work on Jewish Diaspora communities, gathered eleven other internationally acclaimed photographers from around the world to create a collective, multidimensional story of Israel and the people who inhabit it.
The project itself is slightly reminiscent of the Great Depression era “Farm Security Administration” project, in which famed photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange produced some of America’s most iconic images. This Place was executed over the course of three years from 2009-2012 as an effort to create a visual dialogue about the controversial country whose many identities are explored through the lens of distinguished photographers. Together with Brenner on this project, Wendy Ewald, Martin Kollar, Josef Koudelka, Jungjin Lee, Gilles Peress, Fazal Sheikh, Stephen Shore, Rosalind Fox Solomon, Thomas Struth, Jeff Wall and Nick Waplington have contributed works which are reflective of their own personal practices. The result is an incredibly wide array of perspectives, some of which delve into the local life of the people who inhabit Israel, while others merely focus on the landscape itself. All of these images are striking and revealing in their own right and as a whole create a thoughtful and meditative documentary of life in Israel. Despite the selection of content, the photographers involved were able to visually discuss similar issues from different angles, both literally and figuratively.
A standout among the group is the Czech photographer Joseph Koudelka, known for his prolific work concerning Slovakian gypsy life in the 1960s. For This Place , Koudelka spent his time photographing the West Bank barrier and areas nearby. Like the majority of his work, the photos are shot in a documentary style and show the bleak environments surrounding the West Bank. Similarly, the female South Korean artist Jungjin Lee, whose meditative practice and old-school technique utilized in her landscape photographs, translates the feeling of isolation in her work in almost painterly, large scale black and white images.
Another highlight is New York photographer Fazal Sheikh, whose work generally surrounds the displacement of refugees around the world, and who studied the changes in Israel’s landscape and how it has endured ever-changing alterations due to factors such as militarisation. The result is crop circle-esque aerial perspective of the land itself, showing patterns in the earth manipulated by man through the years.
It seems that the aim of the project is not to promote or to advocate Israel, but rather to offer an exposition on Israel’s many identities through the way the individual photographer sees it. All of these images together create a dialogue that is ridden with themes displaying the complexity, the controversy, the ugliness, and the beauty that Israel possesses.
Curated by Charlotte Cotton, a selection of these photographic works are on display at an exhibition of the same name currently showing at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The exhibition will make its way to the United States in 2016 at the Norton Museum of Art in Florida and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in in New York City.
Crédit photography : Joseph Koudelka, Kalya Junction, Near the Dead Sea , 2009 | © This-Place.org