I know a photographer who won’t tell people he/she is Jewish. It’s a secret. He/she worries for his/her safety, if the information ever got out.
I still remember the fantasy of Barack Obama’s inaugural days as President, when people spoke of a post-racial society. It would be funny, if it weren’t so sad. How ridiculous that idea seems, in retrospect.
There is, and has always been, the other. People who don’t look like you, talk like you, or copulate like you. People who worship a deity with a different name.
They’re not like us.
Me, I admit I’m Jewish in this column all the time. Why? It feels a touch defiant, as my people are disliked by many. Growing up, in the 70’s and 80’s, I still felt like I ought to keep my identity on the downlow. And this was in the orbit of New York City, no less.
I suppose I revel in the rebellion of claiming membership in a controversial tribe. “The Tribe,” as we often call ourselves. If it ever comes back to bite me, this freedom of identification, I suppose you can say “I told you so.”
As I mentioned some time back, I visited Israel when I was young, but have yet to return. I’m hoping the opportunity presents itself, but I guess we’ll have to see. It’s a country that is claimed by many, and owned by few. A more tortured history, you’re unlikely to find. (Insert random suffering reference here.)
The Jews were expelled for daring to stand up to the Romans. A diaspora of millions, created with the stroke of a pen. (Or a quill? What would those Romans have written with, I wonder?)
Regardless, the Palestinians were kind-of-ejected as well, and they’d like to get it back. The Christians, too, feel a deep connection, as it was the birthplace of the Jewish man Jesus, a messiah to some.
Regardless of which side you root for, it’s not a stretch to say the tension is carried through the air, there, like heat waves rising off of pale cobblestones. The wounds might never heal. Or perhaps they will? Who am I to speculate?
But that tension, that crippling feeling in your stomach, pulsates through “Them,” a new book by Rosalind Fox Solomon, recently published by MACK.
This book is one of the series commissioned by the project “This Place,” which invited major artists to Israel to poke around. A month or so ago, I reviewed an excellent book by Frederic Brenner, from the same series, and I might do more still, if the quality is this good going forward.
Open it up, and the first page shows a tourist holding a map of Israel, talking to two African women. It sets the scene, in a subtle way. Then, three words on otherwise blank pages: the holy longing. Afterwards, a photograph of a sere, desolate desert. It’s safe to guess we’re in the Holy Land. (At least, I did.)
I wasn’t aware, when I first perused, that this book was a part of “This Place.” I was curious what motivated the production. I hate to repeat words, but it’s just so cripplingly tense. It made me physically uncomfortable, turning the pages.
So much passion. Anger. Dismay. Banality. Drama.
There are text breaks on blank pages throughout, and they might crack through your veneer of world-weariness:
“you don’t understand”
“i want my kids to live in peace”
“god is here for everyone”
“security will be suspicious”
“i love you i love you i love you”
“take care of your mother/ i’ll call you tomorrow.”
Needless to say, those lines could have been uttered by anyone wrapped up in the conflict. They’re universal, which is part of the book’s message, I suppose. When so many have been done wrong, over so long, who can claim a superiority of suffering?
I almost skipped to the end of this book, several times, just to break the spell. I wanted it to be over, the unpleasant perceptiveness. I wanted to feel safe again, in my own house, with asshole neighbors, yes, but not ones who wanted to kill me.
I resisted. The urge, that is. It’s my job to look at these books and report to you, so I stayed strong and went one page at a time. Like a good boy.
It’s rare that I pick up a book and have it affect me this palpably. It’s experiential, this one, so much so that I haven’t really mentioned the successful use of black and white, or the square frame. So many of these pictures appear as if they could have been made 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago. They feel timeless and fresh at the same time.
Despite the fact that the end credits name-drop some heavy hitters in the art world, and that the invited artists were all meant to be “prominent,” I’d never heard of Ms. Solomon before.
Too bad for me.
She is clearly an insightful, creative, and powerful artist, near the top of her craft. For as many books as I see, for one to crack me over the skull like this is worth mentioning again. You might consider buying this one.
Bottom Line: Masterful depiction of every-day life in a perpetual conflict zone
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