Frederic Brenner 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy )
This country has been filmed and photographed so much over the years that you
wouldn’t think there was any more that could possibly be captured through any
kind of lens, regardless of who was behind the camera. Then again, if you are
going to try and offer us, and the world, a new angle on life in this part of
the world, it would be advisable to get someone on board who has both an
intimate knowledge of the subject matter and plenty of global street cred too.
Frederic Brenner satisfies both those prerequisites with aplomb.
52-year-old Jewish French-born Brenner has been snapping memorable photographs all over
the world for over 30 years. One of his better known projects culminated in the
publishing of a book called Diaspora: Homelands in Exile which contains pictures
of Jews in 45 countries, taken over a period of 25 years. An exhibition of the
book’s contents opened at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2003, before hit a
globetrotting route to major cities across five continents. Now Brenner has
turned his attention to the Israel: Portrait of a Work in Progress project in
which he is orchestrating the efforts of 12 seasoned photographers from
different countries and cultural backgrounds.
This evening (8 p.m.) he
will discuss the project, together with philosopher and Hebrew University
lecturer Prof. Moshe Halbertal, in the first session of an intriguing series
entitled Field of Vision – Photographers in Conversation, hosted by Mishkenot
Sha'ananim in Jerusalem.
On Wednesday another of the Israel: Portrait of
a Work in Progress
photographers, Rosalind Solomon with talk about her
contribution to the collective effort with philosopher, musician, artist Aviv
Livnat, while photographer Wendy Ewald will discuss her work with Miki Kratsman,
head of the photography department at Bezalel Academy of Art, at 8 p.m. on May
In fact, Israel: Portrait of a Work in Progress
is something of a
homecoming for Brenner.
“You know, Diaspora really started from here,”
says Brenner when we meet at Jerusalem’s bustling Mahanei Yehuda Market, a
fittingly pan-sensory multicolored and multicultural location for our
“I took pictures in Mea Shearim which I saw as a recreation of an
eastern European shtetl, the Diaspora, in the heart of the Middle East. So I set
out to record shtetls in other places in the world. I spent 25 years of my life
questioning the notion of Diaspora and portable identity - how, as a people, we
have lived with different parameters compared with other nations.”
CROSS-CULTURAL element was uppermost in Brenner’s mind when he approached the
project in hand, although he didn’t have to look too far from home.
mother’s family moved to France from Algiers at the beginning of the 19th
century and my father’s side came from the Ukraine and Romania, so we are woven
from these many threads which I tried to reclaim. This journey is really an
attempt to reclaim all the many voices which have been used by the Jewish
That’s presumably, will come out in Israel: Portrait of a Work
although Brenner stresses that all the photographers are approaching
the job with no defined agenda. That includes politics, although Brenner is
acutely aware of the fact that it’s hard to cross the road here without it being
construed or misconstrued as some kind of political statement.
He is also
under no illusion about the possibility of the project producing a definitive
portrayal or who we are and what we are about.
“Diaspora was a journey
which enabled me to be born to the notion of paradox, ambivalence, dissonance
and cracks. I believe that Judaism is about cracks, it’s not about shlemut
(wholeness). I believe that Diaspora was a good rehearsal for what I’m doing
But, surely, we now have our own country. Haven’t we left the
Diaspora behind? “The residual Diaspora is evident everywhere here.
carry our Diaspora on our back. We just had Pesach when we had a great
opportunity to exit Egypt for a week. But, of course, Egypt is within. It has
very little to do with any given country.”
That said, Brenner has opted
for an international approach to the current project. His snapping dozen include
Martin Kollar from Slovakia, Korean photographer Jungjin Lee, Gilles Peress from
France, US-born Fazal Sheikh who comes from a Muslim family with Indian roots
and Thomas Struth from Germany. The Brenner team also incorporates a wide
spectrum of approaches to the genre, from Wendy Ewald’s childand
family-orientated ethos to Stephen Shore’s less interpretative
“I realized a long time ago that Israel is far too complex for
one person [to portray]. One day I saw a book of photographs, undertaken in
France in the 1980s, like a kind of X-ray of French territory – both
architectural and human, but more architectural. I thought what would happen if
I invited 10, 12 maybe 15 photographers who used photography as a tool to ask
question, here in Israel. I wanted to give them tools and the time – some are
spending up to 8 months here – to look at Israel as a place and a
More than anything, however, Brenner says his work is about
“I am a very emotional person. I can’t help that. It is about
feeling compassion and whether we allow ourselves to feel sadness, and about
meeting the otherness of other people in this incubator of a
For more information: www.mishkenot.org.il
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