Bringing the art of life to news

The Eretz Israel Museum showcases the 2018 World Press Photo and Local Testimony exhibit.

THIS PHOTO by Marc Israel Sellem from ‘The Jerusalem Post’ of a young family in Yitzhar won first prize in the Society and Community singles section. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
THIS PHOTO by Marc Israel Sellem from ‘The Jerusalem Post’ of a young family in Yitzhar won first prize in the Society and Community singles section.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
It seems that nothing gets to us anymore. Or does it? How many of us watch the news on TV, or the Internet, and as the images of horror – bodies of civilians strewn across some street following an attack by ISIS, the US Army, Kurdish militias, the British Army – the source of the violence is irrelevant – the aftermath of a plane crash, forest fire, you name it and consciously feel something? Such scenes generally come over as nothing but news items which, if anything, may only increase our dayto- day fear level, but not induce, at the very least, a sense of empathy or – dare one suggest – sorrow, at the awful tragedy that has befallen the victims and their loved ones.
Then again, if you happen to find yourself in the Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv sometime between now and February 2, you can get yourself over to the upper floor of the Rothschild Building, and catch yourself an eyeful and heartful of the plethora of imposing prints string across the new World Press Photo and Local Testimony exhibition.
This is now a long-running event – the current show is the 16th edition – which draws large crowds from all sectors of the public. Some of the shots on display are simply stunning, you might even say that they are works of art in their own right. In all likelihood, the large prints on show will grab the attention of the visiting public more than the rapidly moving images that flash across their TV or computer screens.
There is plenty of drama in the photos, both in the domestic and foreign lineups, which take in broad range of topics and categories, including war and peace, politics and society, art and culture, nature and the environment, sports, portraits and multimedia presentations. One print which, in particular, stops you in your tracks is the aesthetically thrilling, and emotionally chilling snap by 47-year-old Venezuelan France-Presse agency photographer Ronaldo Schemidt. The work features in the Spot News category and was voted World Press Photo of the Year. It is not hard to see why.
Schemidt, like all seasoned photo journalists, happened to be in the right place at the right time when 28-year-old José Victor Salazar Balza burst past him after catching fire at the height of violent demonstrations against President Nicolás Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela. The figure of the unfortunate gas-masked Balza is disturbing and gripping enough but, as we were told, what tipped the judges’ decision further in Schemidt’s favor was the fact that on the brick wall behind the burning protester there is a graffiti shape of a gun with the word “paz” – peace – below it. It was that unplanned juxtaposition that sealed the award. Luckily Balza survived, although with first- and second-degree burns. Schemidt’s agency colleague, Juan Barreto also documented the protest, but from a different angle, offering us, the viewers, another perspective on the clashes and also bringing Barreto third prize in the Spot News Stories section.
And there is no shortage of arresting scenes on the domestic side of the exhibition. The judges certainly had their work cut out for them.
“We were sent around 7,000 images, in series and single pictures” explains Local Testimony curator Ami Steinitz. “Over three judging phases that was reduced to 500 photographs, and the first and second places were decided by the judges in each of the categories.” The latter take in such fields as news, religion, society, politics, sport, nature and the environment.
While the photos may not be officially defined as works of art it would be difficult to argue against anyone taking that view of a large part of them. Added to that, Steinitz is, after all, the curator of the exhibition, which adds an artistic touch to the presentation. Part of the curatorial approach was dictated by chronology, particularly the events of May when there were mass protests on the Palestinian side of the border with Gaza, in which more than 60 Palestinians were killed, the US Embassy officially relocated to Jerusalem, and Israeli entry Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest. All three feature in Local Testimony.
When it comes to juxtapositions Oliver Fitoussi has most of them beat.
The Haaretz snapper won Photo of the Year with his shot of Likud MK Oren Hazan taking a selfie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and various members of the coalition, following the late night passing of Nation-State Law. The expressions on the faces of the politicians add to the fascinating dynamic, especially that of the prime minister who appears to be doing his best to join in the fun, although not quite managing it.
There are moving pictures, jaw droppers, scenes of unbridled ferocity – human and animal – spectacular frames of the majesty of nature, and some which toast the cockles of your heart. Jerusalem Post chief photographer Marc Israel Sellem’s photo of a young family out in the countryside, among the seemingly infinite vistas of the West Bank, pertains to the latter ilk, with some pretty impressive aesthetics in there too. He took the picture in August, at the settlement of Yitzhar to the south of Nablus, and the members of the competition jury saw fit to give it first prize in the Local Testimony Society and Community singles section.
It is, indeed, a thing of beauty which also imparts a sense of untainted innocence, of infant and parents alike, ensconced on a comfylooking somewhat dilapidated sofa out in a rock-strewn field.
In fact, Lady Luck had a big helping hand in Sellem’s winning entry. He was out on a photographic jaunt, at Yitzhar, together with a French photographer. French-born Sellem was there to get some shots of his own while acting as interpreter for his colleague. The settlement was established by the so-called Hilltop Youth which, in fact, primarily comprises young nationalist-religious couples and families who establish outposts across the West Bank, generally without official Israeli consent.
Sellem says the locals were not initially too happy with the presence of a couple of happy snappers in their midst.
“They said we couldn’t take any photos there,” he explains. “The Hilltop Youth people are very suspicious of the media, because they feel they present them in a negative light.”
Sellem told them his parents lived nearby and, hence, he was on their side. After some checking, and a bout of negotiations, the 44-year-old Israeli and Paris Match photojournalist were given the green light.
Sellem, a self-taught photographer, has been honing his craft for more than 20 years and has developed an instinct for the snap-worthy. “After I have taken a bunch of photographs, I always turn around once last time, to make sure I haven’t missed anything,” he notes.
“Suddenly I saw the couple playing with their child. I clicked my camera one more time, and that was the shot that came out of all that.” It is an evocative picture, which tells a multistratified story, and well worth the official kudos.
This year’s exhibition also incorporates several video clips, including a mesmerizing short film showing the amazing choreographic moves performed by a giant group of starlings gyrating across the sky about the northern Negev. And there are some disturbing, thought-provoking items, clearly designed to get us to stop and consider the world about us, and how we choose to live our lives. Steinitz feels there is a lot more to press photography than just catching some newsworthy visual item.
“There is something poetic about these works,” he says. “In these exhibitions, we try to convey the poetic essence of documentary photography.” That is clearly the case, both in the traveling World Press Photo show which, all told, is making the rounds of 100 cities across the global, and our own Local Testimony offering. Job done. World Press Photo closes on February 2 2019.
For more information: www.eretzmuseum., and