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Anyone can take a photograph. With today's automatic cameras, all you have to do is look through the viewfinder and press the button (much like the amazingly simple Kodak Brownie I used nearly seven decades ago). However, the result is usually a snapshot rather than a work of art.
It's the same with painting or poetry; anyone can produce it, but fine, original works of art are few and far between.
The differences between the works of various photographers are very apparent at an unusual group show of prints by German and Israeli photographers now at the Jerusalem Artists House, entitled Jerusalem Through a Private Lens. The show was recently on view at the Kunsthaus Hamburg.
The show's title doesn't really mean anything beyond the obvious fact that each offering is an individual, personal view. The project, initiated in 2003 by Yissachar Ben Ya'acov of the Jerusalem Foundation, brought together five Hamburg photographers selected by Hamburg curator Claus Mewes and five Israeli photographers selected by Nirith Nelson. The 10, often in a single cumbersome group, were bundled around the capital by professional guides. A large color panorama by Ohad Matalon showing the 10 in action amid a mass of tripods and telephoto lenses is mind-boggling and even funny.
The Israelis had the best of the bargain: they were on familiar home ground and had their own live archive to fall back on. They also had excellent experience of digital printing; their color work is sometimes astounding in its intensity and balance.
The Germans, for the most part, took tourist shots, many of them trite and not very memorable. One of them was fascinated by litter and food scraps on the ground, something very different from Hamburg. Several of them, perhaps in the absence of a real drama or a definitive view, decided to present aspects of the city and its people in a series of prints. But this was their first, probably rushed visit.
In the modest Hebrew-English catalogue to the Jerusalem show, the two curators attempt to describe their choices. Nelson, who like most Israeli curators feels she must take someone like Michel Foucault or Walter Benjamin as a departure point, cleverly chooses Foucault's essay Heterotopia, a discussion of the idea that a place can be both mythical and real. She applies a part of this idea to the way Amon Yariv rebuilds a section of reality in his studio and then makes his own additions to it. Yariv's large low-light print Graveyard is a technical tour de force. Boaz Aharonovitch manipulates density/reality by digitally combining shots of the aftermath of a terrorist attack taken over a period of just a few minutes.
I was less impressed with the posed snaps of Arab and Jewish scouts and youth group members taken by Sharon Bareket. Nelson calls these "documentation." So is my family album.
Curator Claus Mewes chooses one of the arcane methods of the late Hamburg guru Aby Warburg as his starting point, and he explains how some of the Germans, like Thomas Fuesser, painstakingly prepared for the trip and got away on his own walkabout to take thousands of photographs of Jews and Arabs, several dozen of which Fuesser combined in a rigid montage of faces for the exhibit.
Curators want audiences to take their shows seriously. But not every photograph is portentous. This show is worth seeing but is not mind-blowing. The participants are: Stephanie Becker, Barbara Habusch, Thomas Fuesser, Katrin Pollmann, Hayo Hehe; and Israelis, Orly Wolkowski-Dvir, Ohad Matalon, Amon Yariv, Sharon Bareket and Boaz Aharonovitch.
THE NIDBACH series in the entrance gallery of this venue hosts an unusual installation by Oranim graduate and prize-winner Lubna Nawatha (b. Israel 1978), a sometime teacher of art at the Episcopal School in Nazareth who works only in black and white.
Half of her eerie installation consists of eight white benches standing in a sea of white flour. The other half of the floor is covered in deep black crushed charcoal, on which the back view of a female student or penitent is delineated in white flour; the image is derived from one of her black and white prints. Symbolism aside, the effect of the whole is quite riveting.
UP IN the mezzanine gallery, Smadar Goffen, four decades after Rauschenburg, shows collage paintings. Most are part enlarged photographs of a child, part gestural abstracts and part expressionist symbolism. There is much sturm und drang, but little that is convincing, despite her confident handling. Less would be more; the paintings are over-ambitious and need a more intriguing color harmony. (All shows at the Jerusalem Artists House.) Till December 18.