Dateline Israel: New Photography and Video Art is essentially a catalogue for the Jewish Museum’s current exhibition in New York, which focuses on “lens-based art” in Israel since 2000. The museum and the book’s publishers herald the book as a reaction to the rise in tension in Israel and Palestine following the collapse of the Oslo peace process and the beginning of the Second Intifada in September 2000. The book is meant to show “the raw and often unremitting reality of existence” in the country, taken by Israel-based photographers or those artists that have an affinity with the country (such as film director Wim Wenders). Yet one would struggle to find much evidence of such “raw” and “unremitting reality” in the book itself.
Issues such as the increase in violence in Gaza, rocket attacks on Sderot, the internecine political rivalry in the West Bank, the plight of Palestinian refugees, the construction of the separation barrier and the curtailment of freedom of movement for Palestinians are conspicuous by their absence. Instead – despite some stock images of the separation barrier – the plates reproduced show pictures of lifeguard towers and empty beaches, Jewish children wandering through a street… and an oven.
There are, however, some standout pictures. One, by Gillian Laub, entitled Guy and Ranit, Arad, Israel, 2003, shows a former Israeli paratrooper sitting with his girlfriend on a wall with a desert backdrop. It is only after a couple of seconds that one notices that his legs have been amputated below the knee. The accompanying text explains that his friend Louie also had his legs amputated on the same day though in a different accident. Unfortunately for him, his legs have been amputated above the knee, which means that he is unable to wear prosthetic legs. Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra’s portraits of young conscripts wearing military uniform and civilian dress and Argentine-born Rina Castelnuovo’s photographs are also noteworthy.
Dateline Israel may satisfy those that want to get a taste of Israeli “lens-based art” – whatever that is – but the idea that the book represents the passage of the country since Ariel Sharon’s visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in September 2000 is at best misleading. There is an unfortunate sense that the book has missed an opportunity to try something more daring.