On 4th April 2016, Israel tore down seven Palestinian homes in 24 hours.
5000 miles away among the exhibit rooms at the Brooklyn Museum is a feedback note that reads:
"What themes do you see in the photographs?"
The disparity perfectly sums up the experience of viewing, 'This Place', an exhibit now showing at the Brooklyn Museum. 'This Place' is a collaborative project of 12 internationally acclaimed photographers who set out in 2009 to document the conflict areas of Israel and the West Bank. Spanning across three rooms, with a collection of over 600 photographs, 'This Place' is a beautifully curated exhibit that gives us a glimpse of Israel's humanity and peace amidst all the chaos - the 'precious moments'.
Started as an initiative by Frédéric Brenner, a French photographer, this project invited Rosalind Solomon, Jungjin Lee, Jeff Wall, Fazal Sheikh, Martin Kollar, Nick Wapplington, Wendy Ewald, Gilles Peress, Thomas Struth, Joseph Kodelka and Stephen Shore to document Israel, each with their own approach. It resulted in a unique body of work, diverse and contradictory, ironic and beautiful. The exhibit, located on the fourth floor of the museum, greets you with the familiarity of Jeff Wall's work. A life-size image of olive pickers in Israel adorns the entrance, almost to the danger of allowing misconceptions. What seemingly starts off as a banal and tedious representation of a divided land spreads out to intimate portraits and monumental landscapes addressing displacement, identity and environment. While Frédéric Brenner's work on people is a heartwarming representation of the familial bond, Nick Wapplington's work contrasts it with deadpan portraits of Jewish families that evoke empathy. Rosalind Solomon's intimate portraits embrace one's curiosity in the personal lives of varied subjects, probably the reason they are hung together in an alcove - to give the viewer a sense of welcoming. The intimacy continues with Wendy Ewalds spread of images made by sixth graders, students at a Military Academy, employees of a digital agency and many others. Ewald acted as the facilitator, providing cameras to let them create the images. The outcome is a deeper insight into the manifolds of the society with a multilayered perspective.
The heterogeneity of the portraiture is defeated by the landscape imagery of Jungjin Lee, Fazal Sheikh, Thomas Struth, Joseph Kodelka and the rest. To a person with negligible knowledge, Sheikh's aerial landscapes and Lee's black and white landscapes can seem to be artworks. These images unaided with text are in reality a representation of massacre and eradication. One can feel like walking in the zone while looking at Joseph Kodelka's beautiful installation of a 24-image accordion fold book that was made especially for the museum. Gilles Peress provides the viewer with a day in the life of approach through his contact sheets. These sheets, that depict the perils of life in Westbank, ironically look musical - each frame ending on an unfinished note and the next frame picking up from where it has been left behind. Thomas Struth's work of an urban landscape set next to a village scene is tactfully juxtaposed with Stephen Shore's work of magnificent landscapes that are barren yet grandeur.
Underneath all the havoc in Israel, are humans who lead an ordinary life in a conflict zone and crave for peace. 'This Place' reminds us of the peace that exists and the peace that is sought.