NEW YORK – For 17 years and counting, award-winning Israeli photojournalist Rina Castelnuovo has worked as a contributing photographer to the New York Times, documenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the frontlines, so to speak: inside bombed-out homes, alongside IDF tanks, at funerals, in synagogues, outside of mosques.
She’s seen every stage of the conflict – the calm between the storms, the rapid fire, the offensives, the defensives, the prayers for safety coming from both sides of the line. And in a new exhibition at the Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York (on view through May 28), Castelnuovo shares some of her more poetic findings with those who are infinitely more removed from the situation.
They aren’t your typical Chelsea fare – the galleries here are far better known for the weird, the shiny and the avant garde (though South African artist Marlene Dumas happens to be concurrently exhibiting paintings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at David Zwirner Gallery) – and hanging on stark white walls, Castelnuovo’s images gain a certain intimacy that is often glossed over in newsprint, where immediacy is the name of the game.
Many the images were taken in and around the time of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip and the disengagement in 2005. Throughout, Castelnuovo succeeds in humanizing the conflict via young soldiers, Israeli beach bums, loving domestic scenes, and moments of reflection and prayer. In Gaza Border (2009), one of Castelnuovo’s most arresting images, a uniformed IDF soldier draped in prayer shawl and tefillin stands upon his rugged tank and bows his head in prayer after receiving orders to move his men into the city, from which black smoke billows in the distance
Sometimes it’s hard to tell where Castelnuovo’s sympathies lie (an essential quality, of course, in any serious photojournalist). But her relative objectivity presents many sides to this long and very complicated story – one that the rest of the world doesn’t know nearly enough about. Castelnuovo offers counterpoints to some of her IDF imagery (just-as-young Palestinian gunmen, refugee camps, peace activists); she shows IDF soldiers breaking down in tears at having to displace their fellow countrymen and women in the territories as well as daily life in the many areas affected by persistent Hamas rocket-fire; and, in one particularly disturbing image, she shows a Jewish teenager tossing a glass of wine onto a Palestinian woman passing him on the street. (Taken during a Purim celebration in Hebron, it’s the one photograph Castelnuovo won’t allow to be reproduced in print.)
It’s a timely show and an affecting one at that, as Castelnuovo reveals
the ways in which both Israelis and Palestinians are trying to filter
out the noise, press on and live fairly normal lives. In this edited
crop of what must be tens of thousands of photographs snapped over the
past five or so years, Castelnuovo reveals the sites, the landscapes
and the people swept into the fray instead of the conflict itself. She
presents perspectives, not solutions; and in a forward-thinking move
includes a striking May 2009 aerial shot of Jerusalem’s Holy Basin – a
site slated for possible drastic change – at dusk.