The professor's new post

A new exhibit of past election banners examines what happens once the ballots are cast.

By
January 13, 2009 12:22
3 minute read.
The professor's new post

old campaign poster 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Rafi Mann can't wait for election campaign season to finish. Then he can begin having fun. Mann, a 56-year-old professor of journalism and editor of the op-ed pages for Ma'ariv, is obsessed with election campaign posters that cover every inch of the country's landscape in the month leading up to election day. But Mann, an amateur photographer, is more concerned with what happens to the posters after they're no longer relevant and are left to crumble and deteriorate on walls, bus stops and billboards in the months following the campaigns. "Sometime after the 1996 elections, I saw some election posters that were still on billboards, pasted one on top of each other, and it was fascinating what happened to them, how they deteriorated and blended together," said Mann earlier this week after finishing teaching a course at Hebrew University. "I took some photos, and since then, I carry a small camera around and when I'm traveling around the country, whenever I see an interesting old poster still up, I take a picture." That hobby has resulted in Postermortem - Broken Promises, Election Posters in the Test of Time, an exhibit featuring 35 photos taken by Mann of election campaign posters from the past 12 years in various states of decomposition. The exhibit opens on January 15 at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv and will be displayed through the end of the election campaign. Mann, who covered the Knesset for many years for both Ma'ariv and Army Radio, has always been fascinated by politics. And in the 1990s he wrote a book called It's Inconceivable, which explored the stories and historical sources behind well-known Israeli political expressions like "targil masriah" (stinking maneuver), Yizhak Rabin's labeling of Shimon Peres's attempt to form a Labor/Ultra-Orthodox alternate coalition in the late 1980s, and David Ben-Gurion's "UM-Shmoom," statement against the United Nations. "I've been looking into the language of politics for a long time, and now I'm adding the visual aspect as well," said Mann, who added that he found campaign posters to be the perfect art form for politics. "These posters summarize and encapsulate what the politician or party stands for better than the ads on TV: Here you have a face, a slogan and one or two short lines. It represents the commercial sale of politicians and how their message can be reduced to its essence. It's a very basic way of presenting the personality of the politician." HOWEVER, IT isn't the posters themselves that fascinate Mann, it's their evolution. "My sense is that the way the posters look after the elements and time have gotten to them is kind of a metaphor of what happens during elections and the promises that are made," he said. "Before every election, we hope for a new system, and a different kind of politics. There are high hopes, and candidates sound so convincing. And it's only later that you see you're getting the same stuff again and again." Mann said that one of his favorite photos in the exhibit, which he calls non-partisan, is one he took more than a year after the 1999 elections between Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu. "I saw it in a small moshav not far from my home in Mevasseret Zion called Givat Ye'arim. It was near the bus stop at the entrance to the moshav - three posters of Bibi with the slogan 'A Strong Leader for Israel.' But the photo of Bibi on top of the slogan had faded away leaving a vacant white surface. For me, it symbolized what happens to political leaders. They fade away and we get stuck with a slogan," said Mann. Postermortem won't be including any photos of current campaign posters springing up around the country, because Mann said they don't possess that weathered look. "When the posters are fresh and shiny, they're not as interesting as they'll be in a few weeks and months," he said, adding that the manner in which posters are mounted here reflect the volatility of Israeli culture. "There's something harsh and inconsiderate in Israel, where posters are glued on one on top of each other in any conceivable place. You can see the remains for months or years afterwards," Mann said. "I was the Washington correspondent for Ma'ariv for five years in the late '70s and '80s. And the campaign poster mentality is different there. In the US, there are metal frames for posters and when the election is over, they come down without leaving a trace." But fortunately for Mann, the messy way things are done here has left him with plenty of riveting material for Postermortem.

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