Orit Siman-Tov 

The Jerusalem Photo Project aims to create a systematic, on-going photographic documentation of various facets of the city - one of the oldest, most conflicted and politically charged cities in the world. 
The immediate motivation for the project lies in Jerusalem’s dynamic nature:
over recent centuries it has changed enormously, and current trends make it difficult to know how it will appear even fifty years hence.

An archival collection of Jerusalem’s features - photographs of the architecture, culture and people in this simultaneously new and ancient city – will contribute to its ethos and social life, and will constitute a component in the narration of its present tense.  As such, the archive will serve both this generation and generations to follow. 
The notion of the archive has been so tainted and repudiated over the last two decades that we can no longer imagine an archive that is not interlaced with power and domination; nonetheless, the vision behind this artistic documentary project of Jerusalem suggests that the unintended suppositions that may come through this archive are preferable to forfeiting the city’s documentation.
Tamar Berger

Jerusalem - monumental, mausoleum-like, ossified, eternal a-priori - whatever
for does it need an archival project, another archival project? After all, this is the endeavor on offer here: ongoing, cumulative photographic documentation of
the city.

Perhaps an archive is called for because despite its eternal qualities, Jerusalem has been destroyed over and over again, from its days as a Jevusite city in Canaan, to the contemporary Mamilla quarter, from the First Temple to the home of the Shweki family in the Abu Tor neighborhood; and it has also been rebuilt again and again - from the Second Temple to the Al-Aksa Mosque, from the walls of the Old City to Har Homa (literally Wall Mountain), the controversial new neighborhood to the southeast.

The cyclicality of demolition and construction in Jerusalem manifests a strong dialectics of suture and separation. Here the walled city that set itself apart from its environs, there the new neighborhoods established beyond the walls at the turn of the Twentieth Century, but defined as part of Jerusalem; here this century’s separation wall that cleaves the Arab city from its context and simultaneously accentuates its Arab character, there the historical structure of distinct neighborhoods; here the declaration of the city’s unification, there the division in actuality, into a western and eastern city, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Arab, secular and orthodox, affluent and impoverished, like any city only more so.

And throughout, the infrastructure of parkways, bridges and colossal tunnels which, by shaping a meta-geographic, continuous Jewish topography, a continuity of the discontinuous, acts as a bonding agent, but leaves the Palestinian terrain broken into isolated patches.
the project פס Normally, the documentation of the city does not present the true severity of this insoluble complexity. Representations are fundamentally tributary and commemorative, made in the image of the city and its rhetoric, aggrandizing, nostalgic, folkloristic – not dialectical. Even when the difficulty is addressed, the result is monumental or symbolic, or turns out to be so: the new Holyland skyscrapers, the ultra-Orthodox demonstrations, al-Aksa, the Temple Mount, the Black Panthers of the then marginal Musrara neighborhood – socio-political phenomena that grew into symbols.  This is why a different kind of documentation is needed.  Documentation that stands before reality and is shaped by it, documentation that is alert to the details, is not frightened by contradictions and does not surrender to violence; empathic, informed, patient, personal and cool in right measure.

Year after year, Jerusalem is placed at the bottom of the socio-economic scale of cities and towns in Israel. The statistics, taken mostly from the municipality’s annual statistics report, demonstrate the extremity of its situation. Here are but a few: in this very young city (the median age is 23, over 29 elsewhere in Israel), 35% of families and 48% of children live under the poverty line (over 20% of families and 34% of children elsewhere); the median monthly expenditure per person is 3,844 NIS (over 4,259 NIS elsewhere); the workforce is composed of only 45% of qualified adults (over 56% elsewhere) and the median age of the unemployed is comparatively young (55); the median income of salaried workers in the city is 12,740 NIS (as opposed to 14,468 NIS in the state overall), and the median number of heads per household is higher - 4.1 as against 3.7, so that the income per person is smaller.

The situation is many times worse if we look separately at the numbers for the city’s 268,000 Palestinian residents – 36% of its population -- who live in areas that were annexed to Jerusalem in 1967: 65.1% live below poverty level, of them 74.4% children; the average household numbers 5.1 persons, and 42% of
פס    households number six or more persons (only 16% among the Jews); living space per person is 11 sq m (24 sq m among Jews); the percentage of the unemployed is 13 (8 among Jews). Furthermore, the Arab city lacks for a thousand classrooms, there’s a 50% drop out rate, 57% of city residents are not linked to the water grid, and more.

All this, in addition to some fundamental  facts: about a third of the Palestinian residents’ land was confiscated after ‘67, and the city’s outlying Jewish neighborhoods, which were built on it, are inhabited by 60% of Jerusalem’s Jewish residents; until the end of 2007, 50,000 housing units were built in Jerusalem, not one for Palestinians, while hundreds of Palestinian homes built over the years have been demolished after  being built without permits due to the absence of zoning ordinances and cadastral registration; the building of the separation wall has prevented the city from serving as the social and commercial hub for hundreds of thousands of residents of cities, towns and villages left outside the wall, and has brought Palestinian Jerusalem to social and economic collapse. Moreover, the civilian status of Palestinians living in Jerusalem – residency -- is under continual, Draconian scrutiny, so that, 13,000 people have lost it between 1967 and 2008; Israel’s citizenship law, which bars West Bank residents from any permanent status, forces new families (of ‘mixed’ status) to leave the city.

The city’s regional outline plan of 2000, the first since 1959, has been held up for a year and a half now by the regional zoning committee due to the interventions of Mayor Nir Barkat, who was elected in 2009, and Israel’s Interior Minister, Eli Yishai.  The plan, with a declared aim of preserving a Jewish majority in Jerusalem (though one of only 60-40%, unlike the historical aim of 70-30%) is under critique from the right wing for allegedly violating the minimal demographic balance, for not realizing earlier plans to strengthen the city’s outlying neighborhoods, for creating continuous Palestinian territories and more.
פס This critique utterly disregards the crucial fact that the land under discussion was confiscated from its owners.
All of these are hard, cutting facts. But so is the city’s magnificence, its rich burden of 3000 years of continuous history, its riveting complexity and the countless minute, local revelations of charm, kindness, mercy and humor. The whole thing must find its expression in a documentary project that is genuine, honest & bold.

This project is first and foremost a documentation project.  Since it is photography, it begins by stepping out into the territory, but this stepping out is not random.  The excursion may be planned down to detail and focused.  The photographic act itself is one of judgment and selection: framing, placing the camera, determining the length of exposure, choosing lighting and more. All this, followed by the layered work that leads to the final product, offers a wide range of possible manipulations.

Professionalism, skill and experience are crucial for this project. Entrusting the documentation to practiced art photographers ensures the technical quality of the photographs, and much more importantly, allows – at least potentially – a stricter application of the necessary critical distance that can lead to a more abstract, holistic and therefore profound outcome.  The photographers’ control of their medium brings about a wider realization of intentionality, neutralizes haphazard effects, and opens a wider vista for interpretation.  Indeed, the documentation in this case is not immediate and direct, but elaborately processed.  This work has at least one foot in aesthetics, therefore evoking refinement, complexity, substantiality, suggestiveness. The resulting interpretation is not relative; it is a single truth made resonant by professionalism and aestheticization.

The archival project seeks to create a store of such documentations, an open-ended accumulating body of representations and knowledge, a living archive. 
פס The archive will go on for as long as possible, as the absence of closure is an inherent part of its essence – a fitting response to the eternal quality of the city it documents.  The archive is in kinesis, being without form, body without organs. It goes without saying that this text about it, like the representations it deals with, is only currently relevant, conditional.

A living archive is an apparent oxymoron, since an archive is allegedly the inclusive sum of documents related to a certain period or phenomenon. Allegedly, since it is by now evident that no archive whatsoever can indeed include everything and offer a thoroughly disinterested representation.  Foucault, Derrida, Todorov, White and others who have written about the archive have led the discourse to the conditions of the archive’s formation, to understanding it as constructed, ideological, a system of relations, a site with specific entry and exit rules, a place where the present creates the past, an endeavor “for,” rather than a function “of.”

In that spirit, the archive on offer here is not composed of documentary work that pursues a uniformly causative, linear narrative informed by a positivist approach, but rather a multi-faceted, process-oriented, open, contradictory, inclusive and courageous endeavor, a vessel crafted by people, rather than a vessel full of ideas.  This approach also confronts the commemorative and iconic representations of Jerusalem.

The three bodies of work launching the living archive have come together randomly.  As soon as others are added on, the archive will change its face.  Photographers will change, other sites will be selected or the same sites will be shown from a different angle, and the character of the objects on display will shift. Currently the subjects of the photographs on view are two city neighborhoods (Rehavia and Har Homa – Wall Mountain), and an invented zone (the edges of the Old City), but in time the representations added may include
פס figures, phenomena, views etc.  This will transform the visage of the city that emerges from the collection.  No image will demand total, inclusive validity, but every image will offer its particular certainty. That is the dynamic.

What are these three photographic series saying? What insights are on offer when photographic documentation marries the aesthetic?

Igael Shemtov went to Har Homa. Har Homa exterior views, Har Homa interiors, Har Homa from up close, Har Homa from afar, the view stays the same.  Is it the photographer? Is it the place? Neither, but the encounter between them.

Shemtov sees a barricaded landscape of stone fortifications, calcite rocks, buildings like ramparts coated in more stone, the scene arid, unfinished, seared, without a single living soul. His photographs, with skies that have no depth, are so charred they almost vanish or else they are two-dimensionally monochrome with houses like paper-cuts; the violence of the method mimics the violence of the landscape the photographs reflect.

This is Har Homa, officially named Homat Shmuel, where thousands lead their normal daily lives like everyone else, working, bringing up their children, celebrating and mourning and not at all concerned with the Idea of Har Homa, the political fact which is identical to their neighborhood’s name.

But Igael Shemtov is concerned with that fact, and how.  He amputates everyday life and normalcy from the place; what remains is violence and pain. No innocence is left in the neighborhood’s establishment in 1997 on historically Jewish land and expropriated Palestinian land, a wedge in the continuous Palestinian settlements south east of the city.  The neighborhood’s characteristically suburban features, so obvious in the photographs, link it to a different, Jewish continuum of similar suburban neighborhoods built around the
פס older city on land occupied and annexed to it after 1967.  The chiseled stone walls (“Jerusalem stone” or cheaper, updated versions of it), which are underscored in the photographs, emphasize Jerusalem’s general flinty look and its British Mandatory past (when the stone coating was first decreed).

The neighborhood’s harsh posture, captured in the photographs, is a provocation; it addresses an audience.  Perhaps we, the viewers, are the audience, but certainly the neighborhood’s own surroundings are the main spectators.  And these surroundings are almost undetectable in the photographs, just as true skies or everyday life are absent from them.  But the surroundings do infiltrate the photographic series via a plowed path whose source and destination are equally unclear, some olive trees, a hint of terraces and small village homes in the background, and in a subtle, quiet way, in architectural hints of village building styles which are embedded in the stone fortifications. Zur Baher, Umm Tuba, are the nearby villages in question.

Zur Baher, which is the converse image of Har Homa and also its complement, has been home to a farming community since the 16th Century.  After 1967, the village was annexed to the municipal zone, and lost most of its land, which until the building of Har Homa had been declared park land for public use only. The village’s spatial continuity was broken, new construction was limited to private land in its interior, and its urbanization, which had begun earlier, was much accelerated.  It too became a kind of Jerusalem suburb, with zoning restrictions keeping it to low-level buildings, and its infrastructure much inferior to that of the nearby Jewish neighborhood.

Orit Siman-Tov wanders around the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The edges of the Old City walls are not a recognizable zone like the Har Homa neighborhood, but a seam whose breadth changes according to the photographer’s will, whose border is defined by the walls though they are not
פס present in the photographs.
Siman-Tov’s Jerusalem is an archeological mound.  She climbs to the top, sets her camera there and frames a section, generally broad and panoramic, which clearly goes on beyond the frame.  Thus she fences in the terrain by a virtual wall generated by her medium, which evokes the actual, absent fortifications.

The city’s walls embody its ancient quality. The Old City is the initial urban infrastructure created thousands of years ago in a natural setting, and evolving ever since.  The walls of the city were always there, destroyed and re-established time after time: from the Jevusite city, through the City of David, the First and Second Temples, the city of Herod’s era, the Roman Aelia Capitolina, and up to Jerusalem under Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan who built the current walls in the 16th Century. Finally, after 1967, David Ben-Gurion suggested razing the walls, but then reneged.

Jerusalem in the region of the walls opens itself up to Siman-Tov’s camera revealing a slice through time like any archeological dig: antiquities or primordial materials in juxtaposition with the quintessentially contemporary, like a plastic crown, chemical toilets, the dress code of western tourists (a light pack, a wide-brimmed hat, walking shoes, camera, and bottled water), the uniform garb of settlers and their children, suburban shingled rooves.  The typical structure is that of layers.  Taking a photograph becomes an act of excavation.  When a large boulder or stony ground emerges, often what is truly ancient pokes through them, and if not fully visible, makes itself felt because history is buried under and within it.  This arche-contemporaneous Jerusalem is strangled and suffocating.

A detailed, stone-by stone survey of the Old City walls conducted by Israel’s Antiquities Authority uncovered a wide variety of flora and fauna living on and in the walls.  The walls, which embody Jerusalem’s stony quality perhaps better than anything else, turn out to be an impressive natural site.  This is not so in Orit
פס Siman-Tov’s interpretive representation, which transcends the concrete.  Jerusalem, as she sees it, has no soil, only history.

Efrat Shvily documents today’s Rehavia, almost 90 years since its founding. The neighborhood was established in 1923 as a garden city planned by Richard Kaufman. The Jewish National Fund and the Palestine Land Development Company initially bought the plot of land it was built on from the Greek Orthodox Church, when it was still called Ginzaria. The neighborhood was prosperous from its inception, a place inhabited by politicians, intellectuals and other public figures of the upper middle-class.

Still prosperous, Rehvia now relies more and more on the capital of rich Jews who live abroad and buy neighborhood apartments kept vacant most of the year.  In their honor, the local zoning regulations have been amended so that homes may be built up to five floors.

As is common with garden cities, the planning was all-inclusive, hierarchical, and mindful of the relations between public and private. Rehavia has green arteries, public gardens, an avenue, green spaces between buildings, a measure of connectedness and a measure of separation.  Efrat Shvily’s frames are contracted and metonymic: a thicket and a segment of a building, seemingly nowhere, without a recognizable where from. But a stairway shows through, a fence, a trellis, an archway, window, ivy or a rose bush – details and fragments that disclose their context: an affluent, stylish, well-kempt, flourishing place, flowering and fracturing.  Efrat Shvily has managed to distill its essence.

In Shvily’s photos, Rehavia’s back and front yards are something between heaps of ruins and Vanitas paintings: thick, sprawling foliage enveloping the crumbling built environment.  She sees man-made nature that rebels against its maker

פס and takes over its environment, leaving broken-down fences, blocked passageways, abandoned sheds. This is now the domain of the unruly.  Rehavia the garden city, a prototypical modernist, rationalist project that epitomized man’s dominion over his world and his intertwining with it, has turned into a wilderness. Naturally, there are no human beings here either, only their worrisome signs. The precise, black-and-white garden photographs, these intimate locations, become a series of apocalyptic apparitions.

The three series displayed here, the first items in the collection of Jerusalem’s living archive, were shot separately and without any prior coordination. 
Their subject matter, their aesthetic approach, and their degree of political concern are different.  Their presence here together is arbitrary.  Nonetheless,
a shared something does materialize. That something is transience, here of all places, in the eternal city.  Rehavia’s disintegrating buildings, Har Homa’s construction site, a plastic crown set against the archeology around the Old City Walls. 
The Jerusalem that comes to light in these photographs is a city in process, not one wizened by eternity. And so, despite the violence, madness and death that emerge from its representations, this brutal fact may provide a source of hope.


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