Sunday, June 29, 2008

Yes we can?

"Lo rotzim lo tzarich" (roughly : "If you don't want to make it happen , don't do me any favours") states a pissed-off Theodore Herzl in this piece of street art shot just round the corner from the rooftop. To the uninitiated, Herzl, "the visionary of the state" , provided Zionism with a motto : "im tirzu ein zu agada" ("If you want it, it's not a fairy tale") or in the parlance of
the US primaries - "Yes we can!"

As the graffiti aptly expresses, the mood in Israel today is hardly in 'yes we can' mode. In fact it's more like: "how the *&%$@# are we going to get through all this?"
Instead of Herzl's utopian vision of a well-ordered European style state, what Israelis see around them today is a sick political system, rampant corruption, threats from Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran (nuclear) a government crisis and, right now, an agonising human drama. This revolves on whether to agree to a Hizbullah offer to receive what are almost definitely the remains of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser , abducted in 2006, in return for (live) terrorist Samir Kuntar and a few of his friends. Just seen that the cabinet approved the deal
Sure, we're also to blame for some of this but what about Herzl? Wasn't it him, after all , who got us here in the first place?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

taking shots

Sagi, optically challenged but still getting the job done. "Sababa? "

After pointing and shooting for a good few years now, I finally joined a digital photography course. It's a simple affair , a few hours a week in the universita ha-amamit (popular university) which is neither a university nor - at least on a Sunday morning - popular. It seems to be run by Tel Aviv municipality and its student body (let's face it) is composed of senior citizens doing quick courses that aren't too challenging.

Our teacher is Sagi. It took me a moment to fully realise that my first photography teacher was blind in one eye. The other one seems to work pretty well though. He's running us through both the basics of photography and a better knowledge of our individual cameras. I'm on good terms with mine but I know that she could offer me much more if I could only get to know her better.

Whether or not it's a side effect, Sagi sometimes strikes his head in frustration in mid-sentence and loses his train of thought, eventually picking up the theme and invariably ending a sentence with 'sababa'? (i.e. "everything cool") . Connecting to computers and projectors can also be a lengthy affair, approached sideways with much headbanging involved until it all comes together.

The best part of the lesson is when Sagi illustrates the theme of the week (light, captured motion or whatever) with classic examples. Last week he treated us to some wonderful photos from Ansell Adams to Annie Leibowicz.

Despite the size and quality of the class (three retired ladies with names like Rina, one 40'ish guy called Amit and me) he relates to us as through we were budding photo-stars, cooing and crowing over the mediocre results of our homework ("Amazing! enchanting !"). Here's an example of last week's homework, a photo of A's cat that illustrates the warmifying effect achieved when the object is placed opposite the setting sun.

Back to the subject of the masters though, we went to see an excellent photo exhibition up the road in the main office of Bank Leumi. More specifically it was held in Beit Manne, an old house dating back to the beginnings of Tel Aviv. As is often the case, the muncipality allowedd the bank to build its tower in exchange for restoring and incorporating the historic building it would otherwise erase. In the case of Beit Manne and Bank Leumi the problem was solved by placing the old building half way inside the lobby of the new tower. Beit Manne is now being opened as a local gallery. It's good for Bank Leumi's image and relative to their profist costs them peanuts.

This is Beit Manneh from the back. In the front, its the lovely old facade that meets the street.

Anyway, the exhibition was called Shvil 6 , the reference being to shvil yisrael , the Israel hiking trail that starts in the north near Tel Dan and ends up near Eilat. Ten of Israel's best photograhers were alloted a section of the route and the results was a study in strong contrasts. Among the strongest photos were by from Pavel Wolberg, a photo journalist originally from Russia, who takes stunning and sometimes shocking shots of our often violent, ugly and absurd reality with an artist's eye. Photo buddies say Pavel is no 1 in his field and he is gaining a reputation abroad too.

Here's a link to a site about him and here are a few examples of his work to end this post.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Zoltan Kluger

A Hagana despatcher in the 1948 War of Independence on what seems to be a stationary motorbike. I took the photos in this post at today's exhibition.

Went to see an exhibition at the Eeretz Yisrael Museum. Zoltan Kluger, Chief Photographer 1933-1958." These are official Zionist propaganda photos, some of them staged, but many of them impressive nevertheless. He also photographed Palestinian refugees (although not for the Zionist institutions) and workers clearing the rubble from abandoned Palestinian villages after the War of Independence.

Although a staunch Zionist, the Hungarian born Zoltan also had an uneasy relationship with the Zionist institutions that provided his livelihood and, like many Israeli artists even today, fretted about being unnoticed because he was working in a Levantine backwater.

Well to do residents of British Mandated Palestine taking a flight from Haifa to Tel Aviv (1930s)

"I'm suffocating," he was quoted as saying. "I'll die. I'm not progressing. I'm lagging behind other photographers in the world. The pioneers here are dying from fever, living in poverty, tired and gloomy, and I'm supposed to always photograph them laughing. I'm tired of taking photographs of laughing pioneers."

Eventually he moved to New York, opened a photo store and , until this exhibition, was forgotten.

For more on Zoltan and the exhibition see ttp://

Two boys who had survived Buchenwald concentration camp ontheir way to Palestine in an illegal immigrant ship.

A kibbutznikit on guard (or posing as such)

New immigrants from Czecholovakia arriving in their new home.

Immigrants in a transit camp in Palestine (1940s)

Two immigrants from Iran meeting after a long separation.

Father and son arriving in Palestine from Buchenwald.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Waltz with Bashir

A few nights ago we were invited to the premiere of the much touted Israeli animated documentary 'Waltz with Bashir' . We arrived early to pick up our tickets but encountered a lengthy queue moving only at a snails pace in the airless corridor outside the Lev Cinema in Dizengoff Centre. While it was diverting to pick out the celebs in the crowd, - famous military correspondent Ron Ben Yishai , talented actess Keren Mor - it didn't make the line move any faster and we soon gave up and peeled off for home.

Last night we paid up and saw the film, without the celebs but including Ron Ben Yishai who actually appears in his own voice but in animated form. 'Waltz with Bashir' (Bashir being Bashir Jamael, the Lebanese Christian President first crowned by Israel only to be assassinated), deals with the quest of the hero, then a young soldier, to remember what he experienced in the first (1982) Lebanon War. It is brilliant and harrowing and knocks you sideways. Worth making the effort if it comes your way. You can get a taste of it at