This text explores the political use of family portraits in Assaf Shoshan’s Territoires de l’attente (Waiting Territories). Made along the geographical terrain of the Israeli state, Territoires de l’attente is a photographic series that features human-made landscapes associated with precarious living conditions created by the past or present interventions of armed forces. The series depicts sites that relate to the grand ideological and historical narrative shaped by the Israeli state about its establishment, its wars and treatment of the Arab residents who remained after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. In isolating these landscapes from the rest of the geographical terrain currently occupied by the Israeli state, Shoshan portrays them as sites whose physical conditions raise questions about Israel’s policies and attitude towards its non-Jewish inhabitants.
I argue that Territoires de l’attente’s underpinning concern for the circumstances and wellbeing of non-Jewish inhabitants is enhanced by three family portraits inserted into the series. They show Sudanese asylum seekers who recently fled their country and travelled to Israel as they believed the state of Israel might possibly offer them convenient means to start their lives anew. Depicted in compliance with the convention and visual vocabulary of family photography, I suggest that the asylum seekers’ performance, visualization and frequent transgression of the ideological trope of nuclear family kinship remind the viewers of the politics of ethnic exclusion that sustain the absolute rule of any nation-state. I therefore argue that these images do not only record another chapter in the history of nomadic and displaced populations in the region. Rather, they also echo the political forces that prepare individual subjects to endure the troubled existence imposed upon them in the name of any state.
This article is concerned with the production of domestic familial knowledge in connection to the modern Israeli State’s geographical terrain. Considering the period stretching from the establishment of the Israeli State in 1948 to the present day, it focuses on a case study of a family album of pictures portraying Israeli subjects in a landscape that is concurrently perceived as the home of the Palestinian as well as the Jewish-Israeli peoples. By attending to Palestinian and Israeli historical accounts that investigate the Israeli State’s ideological administration of landscape, alongside the theorisation of vernacular photography and the methodologies often used to unpack such imagery, I demonstrate how landscape-family-photographs may confront the Zionist “Geographical Imagination” and the physical landscape the Zionist project designed and imposed upon the “Israeli” land. Such photographs, I argue, extend and alter existing Zionist representational regimes, challenging formal Israeli historiography. While this article centres on the production of landscape-family-photographs within the Israeli State, it intends to offer an insight into the impact both the commercialisation and technological simplification of the photographic medium had on the use of photography in cultural politics. I suggest that photography in this context does much more than simply serve the distribution of power by state officials. In the vernacular, I argue, photography must be read as a potentially subversive apparatus capable of undermining formal doctrines and canonical histories.
Pasternak, Gil, “Playing Soldiers: Posing Militarism in the Domestic Sphere,” Visual Conflicts: On the Formation of Political Memory in Art History and Visual Cultures, eds. Paul Fox and Gil Pasternak, New Castle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011, pp. 139–168.
This book chapter explores the political life of family photographs and the social rituals attending the practice of family photography in an attempt to broaden and politicise scholarly literature on this subject. Focusing on Israeli society, my contribution delves into the micro-politics of family photography practiced specifically by Jewish-Israelis in the context of the Arab-Zionist conflict that developed after the formal establishment of the Israeli state in 1948. I intend to present an unconventional approach to family photography by addressing images selected from collections belong to my own family. In general, my research argues for the need to study the photographic apparatus beyond the traditional parameters of dominant social taxonomies and their prescribed significances. In doing so, it questions the common understanding of the family photograph as apolitical.
This specific body of research examines portraits of members of my family imaged while serving in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Whereas there is nothing unusual in producing and accumulating family photographs of soldiers, it is a practice that reveals the lack of clear boundaries between the state, society, and the nuclear family. In a country such as Israel, where militarism and violent political conflict are part and parcel of the everyday, posing militarism in the domestic sphere appears as necessary. Here I introduce sociological and anthropological perspectives on Israeli attitudes to the army and military service in order to enable readers to fully apprehend the values and visions the IDF symbolises in the eyes of the vast majority of Jewish-Israelis. Since the IDF is the one organisation endorsed by both Jewish-Israeli society and the state, I argue that portraits showing members of the family in military uniform operate as declarations of social assimilation and approval. However, while I demonstrate how such family photographs assist in perpetuating and solidifying Israeli social norms, including positive attitudes towards the Israeli army, I also show how the protocols of the genre of portraiture–not least posing for the camera–can subvert the coherence of their putative message, thereby interfering with cultural constructions of martial identities tacitly endorsed by the state.
Based on a survey of Israeli military and civil cemeteries that I conducted between July and September 2007, this article focuses on the increasingly common custom of mounting family photographs on tombstones of Israeli fallen soldiers—a phenomenon unique in Israel to military cemeteries in particular, although it is forbidden both by Jewish law as well as by the Israeli Law of Military Cemeteries legislated in 1950. I demonstrate how, from its first reported appearance in 1971, the application of this practice has been growing gradually to function as a form of political disapproval that enables a way of salvaging memories of the dead that go beyond the historical role and social identity with which they are imbued by the standard memorials erected over their graves by the Israeli Ministry of Defense. My main argument is that this practice subverts the most fundamental patterns of commemoration prevailing in contemporary occidental military cemeteries in formal-spatial, symbolic, and ideological terms. Analyzing particularly the formal and social positions Israeli soldiers occupy in professional and amateur family photographs mounted on military tombstones, this article offers a series of historical, theoretical, and social interpretations of this growing phenomenon, and opens up the question of the relationship between politics, death, commemoration, and the family photograph.
This article focuses on the presentation of family photographs in reports on terror attacks in the leading Israeli dailies since the first intifada of 1987. How should the Israeli media cover terror attacks carried out against the Israeli population and within the environment of its daily life? What kind of images should it circulate? How explicit should these be? Such questions have concerned a variety of professional members of the Israeli society since the mid 1990s. Having realised that a too explicit coverage of attacks might damage the morale of the Israelis, Israeli dailies virtually agreed in 1997 to refrain from publishing explicit photographs of corpses, expressions of panic, hysteria, grief and anxiety. Instead, the Israeli media turned to what eventually became the only valid, indisputable means to represent the dead victims: their family photographs. These pictures, however, refer to a different space, time, and occasion; they draw attention to more pleasurable moments and biographical highlights, whereas the nature of the reported event and the report itself inevitably focuses on violence and death. The aim of this article is to trace the sociological implications involved in the participation of such images in the narrative of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian political conflict.