Legitimacy of Landscape,
Yaakov Israel’s Legitimacy of Landscape is a visual exploration of Arab, Bedouin and Druze villages in Israel/Palestine. During the ongoing conflict these villages transform into symbols of ‘the other’ in the eyes of many Jewish Israelis. As a result these places are slowly losing their place in the visual lexicon that represents this land. Following in the footsteps of the pictorial history of images made in the holy land during the late 19th century, such as Félix Bonfils and Francis Frith, Yaakov Israel ventured out with his 8”x10” camera to document these repressed villages and multi-layered landscapes, which often go unobserved. Physical and emotional borders in this country are often confused, as jumbled and intersected as the land, which has been divided, allotted and re-allotted as a result of the politics of religious and imperialistic power struggles over the years. In his work Yaakov Israel confronts his viewers with the visibility of these “invisible” landscapes. (This body of work was done between 2002-2015)
Legitimacy of Landscape Statement
“Re-learning images means reconnecting an image (perceived or evoked) of an object to other images that form a whole thing, like a painting, it is like finding again the bonds of this item with other items that may also be thoughts or feelings.”
Maurice Halbwachs “On collective memory“
Between 2002-2015, Jerusalem-based Yaakov Israel travelled across his homeland with his large format view-camera, to give attention to the social and political issues that affect his indigenous marginalized areas. Like a modern topographer and a curious geographer he observes and transcribes his story about a place which is tortuous, complex, intricate. No sign of ending soon, no hope to find a solution in a short time. The mental map of the author is a witness of the morphology and exclusice characteristics of this martyrized landscape.
Gianpaolo Arena: Could you tell us something more about how your project 'Legitimacy of Landscape' started? Yaakov Israel: In 2002, just a few weeks or so after graduating from my studies, my car broke down on route 443 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and I found myself standing stranded on the side of the road. Nobody even thought of stopping to try and help me and after a while I realized that this was because most of the drivers were staring forward, eyes fixed on the road, driving as fast as they could to get from one city to the next and simply not seeing me. This stuck in my mind for some time after it happened and it got me thinking of how people drive around on similar roads in Israel and in the occupied territories completely ignoring what is around them, blocking out the Arab villages that are part of these landscapes. Probably because in the minds of many these villages represent the enemy. These contemplations got me thinking of just how much of the landscape here goes unnoticed, and following this I started to wonder what happens to a landscape that loses its basic legitimacy as a landscape? Does it still exist? Of course these are not questions that can be answered by photography, perhaps they are questions that can’t answered at all, but it is these questions that generated this project and eventually gave it its name.
Gianpaolo Arena: How do you approach the landscape while working on your project? Yaakov Israel: I wanted to give the viewers the feeling of seeing these landscapes from one of the roads surrounding them or leading to them. One of the things that has occupied me from the beginning was how to photograph these villages in such a way that really represented how they are embedded within the landscape. I started out with the single frame but very soon I felt the limitations, because many of the villages sprawl over the mountainsides and the single frame just couldn’t convey this topography. Soon after I experimented with connecting two or three plates together to create a panoramic image. The width of the panoramas varied according to the topography of the village. In this process I had to make an overlap of about a third of the image and even though the time difference between each exposure was only a few minutes, in which I re framed the connecting image, small details changed in the overlapping section. This is how I found myself in a process of deconstructing the landscape by dividing the landscape and then re-assembling it on the computer and deciding what part would be visible in the image. While making the panoramas I got more and more interested in the act of taking the landscape apart and re assembling it photographically and I experimented in making diptychs, in which I dealt with the deconstruction in a different way.
In a way throughout the project I felt that the landscape was telling me how to deal with it.
Gianpaolo Arena: Did you start the project with the idea of making a book? Yaakov Israel: I started this body of work directly after I graduated from Art School and I was thinking mainly of how to find time to do my own work parallel to all the other ’musts’ of real life, such as making a living. In context of the project I was trying to understand how to make images that would generate the certain type of ‘looking’ that I was interested in and at the same time I was learning about the many other practical aspects that helped define this body of work. I was thinking about how to do the work, what villages to photograph, how to frame my subjects, what was the best time to make each image, etc. The idea of making a book of this work only came years later at a stage where I felt the series was close to closure and when I was able to think in depth about the story I was telling and the possible ways of telling it.
Gianpaolo Arena: What book about photography would you recommend? Yaakov Israel: I would like to recommend a photobook instead of a book about photography. In the last few weeks I’ve really been enjoying: ‘Imperial Courts’ by Dana Lixenberg. The images tell a story of people living in ‘Imperial Courts, which is a public housing project located in Los Angeles. Lixenberg visited and re visited this neighborhood and its inhabitants, photographing many members of this community several times over the years, generating a story with real gravitas that ‘echoes’ in a good way some iconic bodies of work from the 20th century.
Yaakov Israel (1974), lives and works in Jerusalem. Graduated in 2002 (B.F.A) with honors from the Department of Photography at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem. Since 2004 he has been teaching photography at some of the most prominent art and photography schools and colleges in Israel. In his work he constantly investigates the Israeli identity as perceived through architecture, landscape and the country’s diverse population. He finds that he is drawn to document places that are from one point of view characteristic of the Israeli landscape, but on the other hand not noticeable to most. “As a person who takes an interest in my surroundings I find that I return again and again to the same places, and these places and their inhabitants have become vital parts of my personal biography”.