Many of us can remember the joys and challenges of conducting a long, involved
student project. For 24-year-old Anna Geda, however, this school project went
beyond academics and became part of history in the making.
A native of
Kiryat Haim, Geda became interested in graphic design in high school and became
involved with photography while in the army. She went on to study photography at
the Tiltan College of Design and Visual Communication in Haifa. Geda’s senior
project was an up-close and personal photographic study of the Schalit family –
Noam and Aviva Schalit in particular – as they fought to bring their son Gilad
home from Hamas captivity in Gaza.
Determined to do her intensive photo
documentary by hook or by crook, Geda was doubly fortunate to find both a family
receptive to the idea and a somewhat idiosyncratic, open-minded college willing
to guide and support her every step of the way.
College president Erez
explained that, “every year, each of our graduating students must do
a senior project. Each student learns graphic design and one special program.
Anna chose to specialize in photography. For her project, she did a
photographic study of the Schalit family and spent seven months with them,
taking thousands of pictures. When it came time for the senior projects to be
displayed, Anna was crying, right here in my office, because as only one of 78
students, she had only one wall to exhibit her photos. She had to choose just 10
or 12 from her thousands of photographs.”
Not surprisingly, Geda remained
emotionally committed to the project even after it was “officially” over. She
continued to photograph the Schalit family right up to the moment of Gilad’s
homecoming, for a total of 10 months.
Why did she choose the Schalit
family as the subject of her project? With a shy smile and in a soft voice, Geda explained, “Gilad and I are
the same age. We started the army at the same time. I, however, was able
to finish the army and go to college while he was held captive. I identified
with this emotionally and wanted to do something for Gilad and his
Geda, who is normally quiet and rather reserved, was far from
certain that she would have enough chutzpah to even approach the Schalits. “I
met Noam Schalit for the first time when he was speaking at a demonstration in
Tel Aviv,” she recalls. “I went up to him and told him that I was a photography
student and that I had chosen his family’s struggle for my project and that I
would like to continue along with them. He was very quiet, but he finally said
From that point on, Geda became the family’s shadow, accompanying
them to demonstrations all over Israel and sharing space in their protest tent
in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
“Every time I
came there, they seemed almost surprised that I hadn’t yet finished my
project. Noam joked that I might keep my photography project going long
enough for me to get a PhD out of it. I told him that the project would be
finished the minute Gilad returned home.”
That minute came, of course, in
Mitzpe Hila on October 18.
How did it feel, after 10 rigorous months of
intensive work? Geda burst into a smile and said, “Wow! I was waiting with my
sister in Mitzpe Hila. It was all very exciting, being part of a big happy crowd
waiting for him to come home. Of course we could not get close or take any
pictures because all of the entrances to the Schalits’ home were blocked by
security people, but we were still very happy to be there. I’ve never met
Gilad Schalit, but this project has made me feel that I know him. It’s made me
feel very close to him, being there for him all that time. I want to take
photographs of Gilad, but I know that it will be some time before I am able
Geda acknowledges having become quite emotionally involved with the
Schalit family, so much that she began to worry that she was losing her
professional objectivity. She seriously considered quitting the project
several times, until she had a crucial talk with her photography
“My teacher convinced me that emotional involvement makes for
better photographs and that there’s no real conflict between emotional
involvement and professionalism in photography. Being closer and more involved
emotionally also made me more comfortable with myself while taking pictures.
Before, I was very shy and reserved. When I was finally able to make peace with
the issue of my emotional involvement, I was able to really loosen up and become
more assertive as a photographer.”
Those pictures are indeed compelling.
Geda’s rendering of facial expressions, hand gestures and brief, unguarded
moments convey almost everything in the broad variety of human
Throughout Geda’s photographs, we see anger, fear, hope,
hopelessness, determination, exhaustion and even rare smiles on the faces of
Noam and Aviva Schalit, as well as almost unutterable tension recorded in
close-up images of jaws being clenched and hands being wrung.
So what is
ahead for Anna Geda? In the long term, she says, “I really hope to be able to
combine design and photography together and to succeed in this area.”
the short term, she plans to reacquaint herself with her boyfriend, with whom
she has not had much free time to spend during the past 10 months of intensive
work with the Schalits.
“It will be okay,” Geda said, laughing.
“Throughout it all he has been very supportive.”