Some of the people I respect most in Israel and Palestine have been writing posts with the word “hope” in the title and gloom in the content. The “hope” of this picture’s title refers to the dashed one reflected in a message on a tee-shirt, but the photograph says more. Here hope looks like worry. The photograph is not an iconic image; it will not change the world or last for the ages.
It is not a photograph of despair either. The people in this set of photographs for the most part just try to cope.
They do laundry; they leave ruined houses; if their houses have been spared for the night they return.
Photography itself is a way to cope.
The Argentinian photographer Eduardo Soteras Jalil photographs everyday life under difficult conditions. I met him this past spring at Dar Al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem at his exhibition “Masafer: Life in the Interstice,” the product of two years spent photographing people living in caves in South Hebron.
He had been in Israel and Palestine for over ten years, but when I last saw him in Ramallah, he said that it was time to do something else with his life and to go somewhere else to do it.
He went to Finland, but when I caught up with him by email last week he was back, and in Gaza. In a blog he kept at the time (since deleted; but see his website, here) he wrote: “no sé muy bien que hago aquí.” I don’t really know what I am doing here. He is not looking for the iconic picture (see my previous post); he does not want to cover “current events,” an expression that seems to leave him cold. A photographer of everyday life, I sense he has little experience and perhaps little interest in photographing death.
Unlike some gruesome photographs from Gaza, the piled bodies, the blazing neighborhoods, the weeping parents, these show the everyday weariness that such catastrophes leave and that can last for years. Sensational pictures draw urgent attention to what is happening now, but we can look at these pictures longer. They offer a space to let the people and their predicament sink in.
Or better, they leave room for imagination – not that imagination that conjures images of the exotic or the impossible, that provides extreme experiences vicariously, but imagination that unites our horizon with that of others – the everyday imagination within which we envision our lives while we live them. We can see ourselves as these people trying hard to keep living such lives. We connect with them as the two young men above connect warily to one another and to the photographer, through crossed arms and a gaze that passes from one to the other to us. I hope in future posts to flesh out the role of imagination in photography.
Here, however, imagination imputes resilience to the people in these photographs, or in the environments shown in them. For the most part they do not appear to be victims.
They cope and above all wait, each in their own way.
The photographer waits, too. To photograph in this manner means to settle in for the long term. Two weeks will not do.
During the brief cease-fire, Eduardo posted a photograph that speaks to imagination and hope:
I expected him to translate “mañana” as “morning.” Morning in Gaza would have had symbolic resonance, but a photograph taken today and labeled “tomorrow” solicits the imagination. The first comment begins “OJALA,” a Spanish word that appropriately comes from Arabic
إن شاء الله inshallah
כן יהי רצון ken yehi ratzon
text © 2014 Margaret Olin