Making contact with his lens

The chief photographer for ‘The Jerusalem Post,’ Marc Israel Sellem, explains how his life’s work has given birth to the showcase photography book ‘Israel in Focus.’

Coexistence in Jerusalem’s Old City (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Coexistence in Jerusalem’s Old City
When he was 12 years old, Jerusalem Post chief photographer Marc Israel Sellem picked up his first camera and started on a 29-year photographic journey.
The fruits of his lifelong passion, seen daily in the pages of the Post, have now been brought to the artistic forefront with a coffee- table photography book, Israel in Focus: Images of Israel Through the Photos of The Jerusalem Post 1932- 2015, featuring both his stunning slices of Israeli life as well as historical photos selected by Sellem and book editor Ilan Chaim and other Post editors from the vast archives of the paper.
Marc Israel Sellem,the chief photographer for ‘The Jerusalem Post’
According to Sellem, the collection presents vivid and evocative studies of Israel beyond the headlines, focusing on the intimate features of life in a country often pigeonholed into the limitations of being a religious center or conflict zone.
“I always felt the need to do a book. As a press photographer, it is an important thing to leave for the world,” he says.
Since his first day at the paper six years ago, Sellem had a book in the back of his mind and has been working toward that milestone ever since. He found a willing collaborator in The Jerusalem Post Group, which enthusiastically encouraged Sellem to bring the project to fruition.
The next stage was to decide what direction the book was to take, whether it would be a book of photographs chronicling the hard and heavy news of Israel, or whether it would include the more nuanced facets of Israeli society.
A training march in the Judean Desert.
“Each person has their own way of seeing the world. So many people around the world see Israel as either religion or war. In this book I try to show real life, the real way people live. Religion and war are a part of the country but not the most important part,” says Sellem, adding that he tried to present the most important view of the country – life and the way people live.
“The best thing is the surprise when people see my pictures and ask, ‘Is this in Israel? This is happening?’ When people see a picture, I want to provoke them to laugh or scream, to have some sort of reaction.”
Some of the photos in the book have a back story that goes far beyond what is seen on the page, like the picture of a member of Israeli security forces rescuing a child in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiya on “Nakba Day,” 2011.
A Jerusalem firefighter rescues a resident of Isawiya.
Sellem, girded in a bulletproof vest, with a helmet and his equipment, followed some security forces into a mosque where there were clashes.
“They were throwing these huge rocks; it was a miracle no one was injured,” says Sellem. “I retreated to a little side street to wait out the violence because it was a little scary. I heard a woman scream and saw a fire. I took two photos, and then I realized the gravity of the situation and yelled out. Suddenly all the Arabs and Israelis stopped their fighting and stone-throwing and ran together to help the family. This is a very unreal thing that happens in this country: People are fighting and suddenly, when the lives of children and women are in danger, everyone stops their quarrel. This was a very strange, powerful, poetic experience. It shows that there is something more important in this region when it comes to life.”
Israel in Focus can be purchased by calling *2423 or at IsraelinFocus/IsraelinFocus.aspx