There is no way to visually capture the complex essence of Israel and the West Bank. Any gargantuan portrayal would veer in the direction of the photographer’s experience, background and lens. This isn’t what Brooklyn Museum’s “This Place”—an exhibition of 600 photographs by 12 artists taken between 2009 and 2012—attempts to do. Rather, its depth aims to share unique visions from acclaimed photographers that demonstrate intricacies and paradoxes, beauty and chaos. The immersive experience is not a new take on conflict. It’s about humanizing inhabitants who one’s eyes may never have crossed. From magnificent landscapes to the most intimate portraits, the works raise questions and seek to challenge viewers.
The exhibition’s name itself speaks volumes about the complexity of topics addressed within. As Cora Michael, the Brooklyn Museum curator of “This Place” shares with CH, “I think the title invites curiosity while also speaking to the overwhelming complexity of Israel and the West Bank. It was chosen because, as someone who had been to the region many times before observed, whenever people who live there talked about it they would always refer to it as ‘this place.’ It holds a lot of meaning, despite its apparent lack of specificity.”
“I certainly think, on the one hand, that people will bring their own preconceived ideas about the region and its conflict to the works on view,” Michael continues. “However, that said, our hope is that, through these beautiful pictures, visitors will also gain a deeper understanding of the place, its people and its land. Each of the 12 artists had a different perspective, a different point of view and a different way of approaching the art of photography.” From very intimate portraiture by Rosalind Solomon to the gritty architectural work of Josef Koudelka, each distinct vision diverges from, while also weaving into, the works of the others. “This diversity of viewpoints can only lead to a rich viewing experience, which in turn leads to a better understanding not only of Israel and the West Bank specifically, but of the human condition as a whole,” Michael concludes.
Each artist spent approximately six months in the region and the exhibition itself was seven years in the making. Photographer Frédéric Brenner originally conceived the project (in 2006) and sought to tackle Israel’s complexity through history, geography and daily life. He, along with a team of global curators, invited the 11 other participants. These others involved either honed in on specific subjects—Jeff Wall’s documentation of Bedouin olive pickers, Nick Walpington’s depictions of Jewish settlements on the West Bank—or larger scenes from aerial views to the streets. The breadth of it all is almost overwhelming, but the value in following each journey is undeniable.
“This Place” is running now through 5 June 2016 at the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn).
First image copyright Fazal Sheikh, second image copyright Frédéric Brenner, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, third image copyright Steven Shore, fourth image copyright Martin Kollar, fifth image copyright Wendy Ewald, cover image copyright Rosalind Solomon