|© Amit Sha'al
The work was originally made for the weekend magazine Calcalist. Sha'al took the series of images – titled Altneuland (Old-new land) – by sourcing photos taken between 1926 - 1979 in what is now Israel. He then located the exact spot they were taken from. "I held the photos in front of me and shot a wider photo. The colored 2010 reality continues where the black and white photo ends. In some places, it seems nothing has changed, but in others, the buildings have changed their purpose and the black and white people are planted strangely in today's reality." says Sha'al explaining the process.
"Closing the exhibition in Beirut was a shame" the photographer continues. "They wanted me out of the exhibition not because who I am or what my work shows. The World Press Photo exhibition contains a lot of political content, and there's no need to involve external politics. Yes, I live in Israel and I'm an Israeli photographer, but I represent only myself and the paper I work for, and for sure not the Israeli government, which I oppose."
If the work is political, visually at least, it is ambiguously so. The images are about the passing of time and changes between the 'now and then'. Of course, a lot has changed between now and then in the territory the images are taken and it is hard for anything concerning Palestinians and Israeli's not to have political undertones.
Reasoning why the protests against his work began, Sha'al says "It was just because of the words 'Amit Sha'al, Israel'.
This likely is true but for those who looked into the meaning of the work's title, there may have been more to it. As Sha'al tells me, "The series' name, 'Altneuland' (Old-New Land), refers to Theodor Hertzl's book from 1902. It is a story of an Austrian and a German sailing to a Pacific Island. On their way, they stop in Palestine. After 20 years on that Pacific island they head back to Europe and stop again in Palestine. They discover a land drastically transformed, showcasing a free, open and cosmopolitan modern society, and boasting a thriving cooperative industry based on state-of-the-art technology. In the two decades that have passed, European Jews have rediscovered and re-inhabited their Altneuland, reclaiming their own destiny in the land of Israel."
Regardless of the photographer's nationality, the title of the work, or where the work was photographed, this ultimately reflects poorly on Lebanon and is most significantly a loss for those living in Lebanon for not being able to see the world famous exhibition. Without the opportunity to see the work for the intended duration of the show, many Lebanese, Palestinians and others living or visiting the country, are not given the courtesy to judge the work for themselves. "Unlike Hertzl's book..." Sha'al says "...this series leaves the commentary in the viewers' hands." Perhaps not surprisingly, most people GMEP spoke to in Lebanon felt the work should not have been protested.
"And anyway," Sha'al points out "in these days censorship is ridiculous, when everything is accessible on the Internet."
|© Amit Sha'al
|© Amit Sha'al