Demonstrating photography

Inspired by last summer's events, In the Name of Protest is a retrospective of some of the country's iconic demonstrations.

Protest 1954 521 (photo credit: David Rubinger/Yedioth Ahnronot)
Protest 1954 521
(photo credit: David Rubinger/Yedioth Ahnronot)
Thankfully, we live in a democracy and, if we get the urge to have our say out on the street, en masse – police approval permitting – we can do so. Naturally, protests aren’t worth much if there’s no one around to witness them, and they often produce some enduring photographic documentation, too. Some of the latter will be on show at the In the Name of Protest exhibition which opens at Beit Avi Chai on Monday.
The exhibition is the brainchild of Hagai Segev, who trawled thousands of prints in his capacity as curator. Segev says the show was prompted by the events of last summer.
“The social protests were a very important landmark here, and Beit Avi Chai is involved in the community and in culture, so it was a natural continuation of that,” he explains.
The show includes photographs of protests, of various kinds and ferocity, which have taken place over the past six decades, starting with David Rubinger’s striking 1952 black-and-white image of a demonstration by disabled people outside the Knesset building of the time which, coincidentally, is just down the road from Beit Avi Chai on King George Avenue.
There is also a powerful shot, by Boaz Lanir, of silent, doleful-looking workers outside the ATA factory in Kiryat Ata during the lead-up to the textile company’s closure in the 1980s and, of course, full color documentation of the mass social protests of last year.
Last summer’s tent cities and demonstrations around the country also provide the theme for one of the planned follow-up exhibitions Segev has in the pipeline.
“This show is about how protests were captured by photographers over a period of 60 years, and how their approach changed over the years, the next exhibition will show how contemporary photographers documented last summer’s social protests,” he explains, “but in a more artistic way.”
The third item in the exhibition triad will stray from the photographic domain.
“The last show will examine the way Keren Kayemet [KKL-JNF] generated change through the themes it promulgated in its posters around the world, and how students of Bezalel [Academy of Arts and Design] responded to those posters in their own work. It’s not strictly about protest, but it is about change.”
In addition to 87-year-old Rubinger and Lanir, In the Name of Protest includes penetrating prints by Boaz Aharonovitz, Daniela Orvin, David Silberman, Nir Evron and Dafna Talmon.
“This exhibition focuses largely on image as a means of disseminating an idea in general, which, in this case, is the concept of protest,” Segev continues, adding that his professional background as a historian stood him in good stead for the current project. “Through the photographs, I tried to discern how things have changed, and are changing. I also tried to discover what made a particular image representative of protest and, possibly, see which images may take on iconic status and, say, 10 years from now will be identified with certain demonstration events that took place.”
According to Segev, there are defined criteria that help to confer iconic status on an image.
“There is the image of conflict, there is the composition of planes, there is normally the human image that imbues the picture with some kind of energy and there are facial expressions.”
There are some moving pictures in the exhibition, and some that will, no doubt, touch a raw nerve. Silverman’s shot of a clash between policemen and Jewish settlers in Hebron in 2008, for example, shows a couple of young girls in a state of great emotional and physical distress. The photograph conveys a sense of abject helplessness in the face of almost violent purposefulness – the two extreme sides of the protest coin.
Some images are more statuesquely poignant, and some are purposely juxtaposed for enhancement through contrast. One example of such premeditated twinning shows a group of ultra-Orthodox men, from the back, praying in protest near archeological excavations by the site of an old cemetery along the route of the Trans-Israel Highway. Next to that is a picture of the Women in Black protest group taken from the front, taken several years earlier at a different location. The protest themes are very different but the esthetic commonality is self-evident.
There is a similarly strikingly contrasting confluence of another color photograph of haredi men protesting against work on the same stretch of Route 6, with the stagnant bucket of a bulldozer hanging ominously between them, taken in 2002, next to a monochrome picture of an elderly Arab man trying to navigate his way around a barricade of oil drums in the West Bank.
Another interesting aspect that comes across in the collection is the element of accrued experience, both of the photographer and, crucially, of the observer. Over the years, thanks to the invasion of the media and increasingly stark images into our homes, we have gradually become less sensitive to the content of the pictures that flicker across our TV screens and appear in print media.
Shots of the first suicide terrorist attacks on buses in Tel Aviv, at the start of the second Intifada, were captured by cameras placed several hundred meters away. However, as competition in the media hotted up to capture ever more in-your-face images, the cameras moved in on the scenes of carnage. It follows, therefore, that the photograph of, for example, that 1952 disabled persons’ demonstration in front of the Knesset would hardly set the average newspaper reader’s pulse racing compared with today’s unfettered visual fare.
Segev says he tried to stay close to the more emotive properties within the photographic domain.
“I looked for a sense of human emotion, like fear or horror, or something in the person’s expression, or that the photograph manages to convey a sense of what actually took place and, as the observer, you are able to identify with the event and with the people caught up in it.”
The curator says he didn’t opt for a sensationalist approach while working on In the Name of Protest.
“I didn’t go for pictures of extreme situations. I went for photographs that proffer a question mark. To my mind, the two most iconic or meaningful shots in the exhibition are the one of the young girl in Tyre [Lebanon] and this one at ATA. Note the penetrating look in their eyes. These are simple people and they manage to convey to us some kind of message, and allow us to identify with them and with their plight, even if you don’t know anything about the background to their protest.” That, in a nutshell, is the essence of the exhibition.
In the Name of Protest opens at Beit Avi Chai on January 23. Admission is free. For more information: