'Documenting Israel: Visions of 75 Years' opens at the Museum of Tolerance, Jerusalem

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'Documenting Israel: Visions of 75 Years' opens at the Museum of Tolerance, Jerusalem
Exhibiton view. © Robert Hyde. Courtesy: CLAIRbyKahn.

ZURICH.- Documenting Israel: Visions of 75 Years is the first exhibition to be held at the new Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. Curated by Anna-Patricia Kahn, the works cover the State’s entire history as well as the years leading up to its founding.

Made by 12 artists, 120 photographs and one video point to the highly subjective nature of the perspectives surrounding Israel while showcasing the diversity and complexity of the State and its inhabitants. The exhibition offers layered viewpoints on Israel’s development and the growth of its communities.

The exhibition opened 28 April and features work by Micha Bar-Am, Robert Capa, Thomas Dworzak, Bruce Gilden, Erich Hartmann, Nanna Heitmann, Sigalit Landau, Helmar Lerski, Inge Morath, Benyamin Reich, David Seymour and Patrick Zachmann.

Even before the proclamation of the State of Israel, the Promised Land fascinated poets, artists, journalists and photographers. How can one not be fascinated by the idea of terra sancta, a thousand-year-old promise of redemption for humanity? How can one resist telling and passing on these narratives? The first photographs of Palestine, incidentally, were taken in the same year that the photographic process was created, in 1839.

The creation of the State of Israel in the aftermath of the Shoah heightened the desire of storytellers from all walks of life to gather the tales and distinct tragedies of the country’s inhabitants. Israel was, and remains, a promised land for photographers and documentarists.

For a photographer, framing an image is a highly subjective act; a curator’s choice to exhibit one is no different. The 120 prints and video presented here are put in context with twelve viewpoints at different moments over the last hundred years. Their goal: to share 120 perspectives on and open as many windows to a country and its communities.

Enriched by characters as diverse as Inge Morath, the first female member of the Magnum Photos agency, Benyamin Reich or Patrick Zachmann, the exhibition is testament to the humility with which these photographers have captured, chosen and framed moments and encounters. They knew that they could never convey the complexity of the situation. Their images therefore remind each of us that looking—and even seeing—does not mean believing or knowing, but in the best cases allows the apprehension of a minuscule part of reality.

La photographie d’auteur has an essential quality: to recreate and transmit emotions. When Chim captures the gaze of a Yemeni worker, when Robert Capa photographs immigrants on the deck of a ship a few cable lengths from the land of their dreams, when Micha Bar-Am captures the farewell of soldiers, they invite us to feel the moment with them, to relive it, for as long as we wish, in front of their works.

The dialogue between the historical works of Helmar Lerski—who was the first member of the Palestine Professional Photographers Association, founded in 1939 with Walter Zadek—and the portraits made especially for this exhibition, boldly flashed by New Yorker Bruce Gilden, allows us to get even closer to these unknown or departed men and women who have populated this country. A labyrinth of faces observe us as we observe them.

The cumulative perceptions of these twelve masters of photography show us only one twelve-thousandth of the reality of Israel. They are a call to look around us with kindness, for they tell the story from the perspective of the Other, of others. A chance for each of us to practice more compassion and tolerance.

-Anna-Patricia Kahn, curator

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