Zooming in on the Schalits

Anna Geda shadowed the parents of the captured soldier.

Gilad Shalit family 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Gilad Shalit family 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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 Issacharov 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 family.
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 okay.”
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 to.”
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 teacher.
“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 emotions.
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.”
In 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.”