Menahem Kahana’s photograph of three women standing amid the burnt remains of the Dawabsha family home in Duma village was selected as Photo of the Year for Local Testimony 2015. The photograph was taken on August 3, 2015, three days after the arson attack that killed Riham, Sa’ad and their infant son Ali. Vardi Kahana, Curator of Local Testimony 2015, commented on the photo in a press tour of the exhibition, that took place on December 10, 2015:
“We are looking at three women, neighbors, standing in the middle of the room, shocked and stunned by the scene they behold. Often a photograph sends us to an association from the world of art, looking at this composition, three women in black, I can imagine the three sirens from the Greek Mythology or three angels bearing messages from Jewish mythology.
It doesn’t matter where I take it, the fact that they are three and their position in the space is so symmetric works on the viewer…perhaps even more than a more graphic image. This photograph taken after a few days [the arson attack was on July 31, 2015] gives us perspective on what we feel as viewers. Something works on us, an act of thought and identification brought on by the associations that creates a stronger connection to what we see. The image of course is not staged, it is a news photograph. When I speak of associations, these are my associations as a curator.”
The jury’s selection (which was unanimous) is certain to be considered controversial for some, yet Vardi Kahana was resolute in affirming to the press: “There was no horror that can compare with this, and I say this as a Jew in the land of Israel.”
The joint exhibition of Local Testimony and World Press Photo at the Eretz Israel Museum offers an opportunity to reflect on the past year through news and documentary photographs. The photographs hang from the ceiling, a floating exhibition of images that one can walk through. In previous years the two exhibitions were arranged on different sides of the gallery, but this year Local Testimony images are displayed on a diagonal across the room, amid the images of World Press Photo. Curator Kahana commented on this design choice to merge the two perspectives, explaining that “Issues are no longer local, all issues are world issues and the dialogue is familiar to all. There are dialects within this visual language, but the images are familiar, we speak the same language of images.”
Local Testimony provides a platform for the best photographs of news and documentary photographers in Israel. 7,000 photographs were sent in by 300 photographers, of these, 250 photographs by 50 photographers participate in the exhibit. The photographs are submitted anonymously, so that the committee selects photographs to exhibit, and not photographers. Only professional photographers (those affiliated with a newspaper, or independent photographers whose work appears in the media or exhibitions) may participate.
World Press Photo was founded in 1995, and reflects the passing year, the ever-changing world and the changes in news and documentary photography. The annual award is one of the most prestigious in the field, and the exhibit is on display in over 100 countries. World Press Photo of the Year 2014 is an image by Danish photographer Mads Nissen, which shows Jon and Alex, a gay couple, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The photograph is part of Nissen’s larger project called “Homophobia in Russia.”
Local Testimony and World Press Photo will be on exhibit at the Eretz Israel Museum through January 16, 2015.
For opening hours and additional information, consult the museum website.