Photography Exhibit: A window of perspective

Tel Aviv braces itself for the largest and most prestigious annual press photography contest in the world.

The 2008 World Press Photo exhibition arrives at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center this Thursday, December 18 for the seventh time. Opening as well, for the sixth time, is the Israeli photography exhibition, Local Testimony. The Netherlands-based organization brings this prize-winning exhibit to Israel as part of a tour of major cities the world over. It was first brought here by Dana Wohlfeiler, at the height of the Intifada in 2002, because she felt that Israelis needed, "a glimpse of what is going on in the world." Boasting 200 journalistic photographs (selected from almost 7000 submissions), this is the largest and most prestigious annual press photography contest in the world. Wohlfeiler feels the exhibit is important in providing Israelis and Palestinians the opportunity to see how they are depicted in the international media. According to her, this year's photographs, in contrast to those of previous years, do not contain any pictures that touch a local nerve. "There have been no problems. Everything has been quite smooth," she says. The World Press Photo of the Year award was given to Tim Hetherington, whose picture captured an exhausted American soldier resting in a bunker in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. Of equal importance in offering an altered perspective is the need to "give a platform to those who work here, to show the inner angle and how it seems from here," she states. Thus, the local exhibition was set up in the second year. In this way, says Wohlfeiler, the organizers are able to, "give the visitor the scope" of the world's best photojournalism along with the local perspective. This latter exhibition presents the best work of photographers who are Israeli, Palestinian or have worked in Israel for a period of five years. The photographs document phenomena that has "had significant impact and implications on the Israeli reality," Wohlfeiler states. These photographs depict "moments with both a media value and a human significance," and Wohlfeiler hopes, "will move people, will excite people; make them angry, make them laugh. Above everything, this exhibition is a social project." Each of the photos are displayed under one of ten categories: News, Politics, Society and Community, Daily Life, Religion and Faith, Portraits, Culture and Art, Life Style, Nature and Environment, and Sports. The variety is designed to give as broad and inclusive a cross-section of society as possible. Similarly, the panel of judges was selected to represent as much variation as possible, comprising big names in photography, editing, academia and social activism from across the spectrum. Men, women, Jews of various ancestry and Palestinians all had a say in whittling down all the submissions to what we now see on display. One of the most interesting themes in this year's exhibition, reveals Wohlfeiler, is the economic crisis and the social situation resulting from it. "Homelessness, prostitution; [the exhibition] takes people on the margins of society and tries to bring them under the flashlight." The results can be quite unsettling, however, as art mingles with social commentary and the aesthetic side clashes with the subject matter. "It is sometimes disturbing to see something so sad and yet at the same time recognize the beauty of what you are seeing," says Wohlfeiler. Both exhibits run through January 11, 2009. Hours are Sun-Thur from 10 a.m. till 10 p.m. and Fridays till 4 p.m. Admission is NIS 15 for students and soldiers, NIS 20 for university students and journalists and NIS 25 for everyone else.