Realising Palestine: Israel’s Popular Photographic Cultures in the post-1967 War Period. Invited lecture for the conference, Visual Histories of Occupation organised as part of the project Cultures of Occupation in Twentieth Century Asia (COTCA). University of Nottingham, UK, 23 June 2017.
18 May 2017, Dominant Participants and Active Producers: Popular Photographic Cultures in Photography Studies. Keynote lecture in the international conference, After Post Photography, European University in St.-Petersburg, Russia, 18-20 May 2017.
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, and for the first time in history, virtually all disciplines within the arts, humanities and social sciences have their own photography scholars. Historiographical at its core, this paper will survey the development of photographic scholarship from the mid twentieth century to the present day. In doing so, it will show how the study of photography has gradually moved from exclusive examinations of photographic visual content to investigations of the social and cultural work photographs do in public and intimate environments alike. Through analyses of influential studies, the paper will identify the origin of this transition in the prominent interest scholars took during the 1990s in popular practices of photographic production, uses and consumption. It will argue that following their engagement with popular photographic cultures, photographic scholarship of the last two decades recognises photographs as underrated research resources. Photography studies have consequently began considering their contribution to the elaboration of historical, cultural and social studies through explorations of the visual, material and affective significance of photographs within professional, creative, and other everyday frameworks. In the twenty-first century, the popularisation of photographic practice through the incorporation of cameras into smart technologies makes it more difficult to imagine what the personal and collective experience of everyday life could be without photography. This reality turns photographs into organising forces of everyday lived experience, further accelerating scholarly interest in photographic mass production, and cementing the status of photographs as dominant participants in popular culture as well as its active producers.
10 May 2017, Crushing Communism, Realising Democracy: Public Photographic Displays and Polish Sociocultural Politics in the 1980s and 1990s. Co-authored lecture (with Marta Ziętkiewicz) in the international conference, Shaping Identities | Challenging Borders: Photographic histories in Central and Eastern Europe, Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, in association with Liber pro Arte (Warsaw), Humboldt University (Berlin), Photoinstitut Bonartes (Vienna), Photographic History Research Centre at De Montfort University (Leicester), and the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw), 9-11 May 2017.
Our paper explored attempts made by Polish intellectuals to reorganise Poland’s sociocultural politics between the 1980s and 1990s through the installation of strategic photographic displays that explicitly challenged the very foundations of communist philosophy. In doing so, we elaborated knowledge about the participation of photography in facilitating the gradual transition of Polish society to democracy. Analysing materials preserved in private collections and Polish public archives, we discussed a range of socially oriented curatorial practices typical to the period the paper considers. Primarily, however, we payed close attention to one series of public displays put together by Aleksandra Garlicka, including for example: Photography of Polish Peasants (1985); Workers (1989); Others Among Us (1992); and Polish Intelligentsia (1995). Garlicka was an academic who came to recognise photography’s political potential when she visited the exhibition The Family of Man during its 1959-60 installation in Poland – an exhibition originally curated by the New York MoMA in 1955 to disseminate western humanistic principles and democratic values. But Garlicka was able to start putting her photographic understanding to practice only when communist politics started weakening. Featuring photographs that she gathered through open public calls and in forsaken Polish archives, each of the displays she organized demonstrated that Poland’s historical social photographies (images as well as practices) simply do not support the ideas that ‘communist elites’ wanted the Polish people to accept as their reality and collective memory. Her initiatives inspired other Polish intellectuals and ethnic minority groups to embrace photography for the same and similar purposes. The sparse literature addressing photographic practices in the former Eastern Bloc tends to pay much attention to the role photography had played in the dissemination of formal politics. Through our paper, however, we broadened considerations of the role photography has also played in challenging Eastern European communist regimes, their official legacies and social as well as cultural politics.
2 July 2017, Fallen Politics: Fighting the Israeli State in the Military Cemetery”. Invited lecture for the conference, Law and Photography. Birkbeck and London School of Economics (UK).
The state of Israel gives military burial to any Israeli who dies during military service. To portray deceased soldiers as the nation’s altruistic heroes, in 1950 the Israeli state legislated the Law of Military Cemeteries, forbidding any private alteration to the symbolically unifying tombstones erected over their graves. Israelis respected this law for the majority of the first two decades after its legislation; rarely did they see any difference between their private interests and those of the state. However, owing to the increasingly precarious nature of the country’s political reality, since the late 1960s Israeli citizens have developed a growing sense of disbelief in their state’s ideological values. Seeking out ways to adapt them to their own, they have turned the military cemetery into one political site where this battle can be fought. In this talk I will show how photographic practices have become the citizens’ main ammunition in this particular fight against the state. Focusing on the now common custom of mounting domestic photographs on military tombstones, I will clarify the rationale underpinning the Law of Military Cemeteries, and how it utilises Jewish Law to justify its ban on figurative forms of commemoration. In doing so, I will explain how the Ministry of Defense has retaliated against the civil attacks on its burial territories, and how the clashes between the state and its citizens have influenced the interpretation of the Law of Military Cemeteries, in court and on the ground.
31 May 2016, “The Devil of the West” and “the Satan of the East”: Studying Photography in Shifting Academic Landscapes. Keynote lecture in the international conference, Discovering “Peripheries”: Photographic Histories in Central and Eastern Europe, Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland, Warsaw, 31 May – 1 June 2016
The study of photography in “western academia” is today more prolific than it has ever been in the history of photography. While, however, since the 1970s scholars in this environment have published a relatively large body of work about the photographic histories, practices, and cultures of numerous human geographies, the existence of sparse literature on central and eastern European photography remains one of the history of photography’s many curiosities. In this keynote talk I traced the development of the study of photography as we know it in the so-called west against the shifting academic landscapes that have helped shape it since the 1970s’ flourishing academic interest in photography. Attending to the earlier complex relationship between photography and academia in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, I first showed that scholarly work on western photography and central and eastern European photography was equally scant before the 1970s. Analyzing the historiography of photography studies since then, I argued that the emergence and expansion of photography studies in “western academia” has been under the influence of research methodologies whose underpinning agendas (Frankfurt School cultural politics and the 1960s and 70s sociocultural revolutions in the “west”) often render central and eastern European photography irrelevant to their aims.
1 June 2016, Making a Home in Poland: The Jewish Sightseeing Movement and Its Photographic Practices. Co-authored lecture (with Marta Ziętkiewicz) in the international conference, Discovering “Peripheries”: Photographic Histories in Central and Eastern Europe, Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland, Warsaw, 31 May – 1 June 2016
Our paper focused on the photographic practices the Poland-based Jewish sightseeing movement employed between the two World Wars, to promote Jewish cultural identity and Poland as a home for the Jewish people. Founded in 1923, the Jewish sightseeing movement wished to expose the Jews of Poland to the country’s diverse landscapes, encourage Jewish tourism in the land, and create archives of local Jewish cultural heritage with a view to investigating what Jewish culture might be in the context of European nation building. While other early twentieth-century Jewish organizations dreamt about the establishment of a Jewish nation-state elsewhere, the Jews who were involved with the Jewish sightseeing movement considered Poland as a home, and the Poles as their neighbors. To achieve their goals, members of the movement organized a large number of photographic activities, including photography courses and exhibitions, as well as photographic excursions to different regions in Poland. In addition, they published various scientific as well as more popular journals, in which movement members printed some of the photographs they captured in the country, alongside informative articles about photographic strategies that anyone with a camera could have employed to contribute to the movement’s sociocultural and national aspirations. The Jewish sightseeing movement ceased to exist as soon as Poland was invaded by Germany in 1939. Its members subsequently either escaped from the country or shared the fate of the majority of Polish Jews. While, as a consequence, the Jewish sightseeing movement never fulfilled its goals, it left behind literature and photographic records that could be used to elaborate studies of Jewish history as well as expand the scope of the study of photographic history. On the one hand, the study of the movement’s photographic practices can help elaborate on the complex historical relationship of Jews and the Polish country. On the other hand, it gives photographic historians an insight into early twentieth-century understandings of the relationship between photography and nation building, understandings which those European nations who felt secure in their homelands had taken for granted.
21 March 2016, Exposing Minorities: Domestic Photography and Cultural History in Post-Communist Poland, 1989-1996. Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London
In 1994 the Jewish-Polish Shalom Foundation announced a photographic contest whose intention was to reconstruct the sociocultural histories of Polish-Jews who lived in the geographical region of Poland before, during and after the Second World War. Calling upon members of the public to submit their annotated domestic photographs for inclusion in the project, the Foundation’s initiative emerged shortly after the 1989 collapse of the communist regime in Poland, and alongside similar projects whose aim was to salvage Poland’s multicultural histories – histories the communist government had largely erased. Whereas existing scholarly literature in the field of photography studies tends to frame domestic photography with reference to the social behaviors prevalent in democratic states, I considered the Foundation’s project as a case study that sheds light on domestic photographic practices in a country that did not see democracy before 1989. My talk drew on research I carried out along with Marta Ziętkiewicz (the Institute of Fine Art at the Polish Academy of Sciences), and the findings presented intended to diversify some of the meanings and functions often associated with domestic photographic collections in current studies in the field.
20 November 2015, At Home with Palestine: Performing Historical Domestic Photographs of the West Bank in Israeli Households. Institute of Social & Cultural Anthropology, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
Only a week after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war ended, Israeli citizens began traveling to the territories conquered by the Israeli Defense Forces in the recent battles with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Commonly carrying cameras, they photographed in spaces that just returned to accommodate more prosaic activities than armed conflict. Drawing on my recent ethnographic fieldwork in Israel, this talk looked into the ways in which members of Israeli society perform their postwar photographs in the household nearly 50 years after their making. A large part of the talk considered photographs taken in the West Bank, which meanwhile the Palestinian people have fought over in their struggle for an independent Palestine state. Focusing on the types of situated knowledge that these photographs help shape in specific domestic settings, I argued that they give rise to complex life-worlds in which Israeli citizens turn back to the photographs to resist the prevalent, politically loaded reality in the country.
23 May 2014, Photography: Its Future’s Past and Present, Gil Pasternak in conversation with Quentin Bajac, Chief Curator of Photography at the New York MoMA. The French Academy in Rome, Villa Medici
I was invited to deliver a talk on photographic historiography and hold an ‘in-conversation’ with Quentin Bajac, the New York Museum of Modern Art Chief Curator of Photography, who was appointed in 2013. The event took place in the sixteenth-century Villa Medici in Rome, before Fellows of the French Academy, local practitioners, curators and other interested members of the public. My conversation with Bajac revolved around the question of the current and future position of the histories of photography written and advanced by Bajac’s predecessors at the MoMA’s Photography Department. Read more
16 June 2014, Amateur Photography, The Final Frontier: Developing Histories of Marginalised Popular Photographic Practices. Wakefield Camera Club, UK.
My talk explored whether it is possible or desirable to position unaccounted for amateur photographic practices in relation to other dominant histories of photography. Considering how exclusive and limited the field of photographic history has been so far in its scope, I looked into photographic practices carried out away from photography’s professional and artistic spheres, within the domestic environment and its surroundings, as well as at one’s own leisure, as part of the convivial gatherings of photography enthusiasts. A great portion of the talk was dedicated to DIY analogue photographic processes, with a view to opening up the question of photographic history anew.
21 June 2013, “Bad Photos”: A Political Theorisation of Lomography. International Communication Association, Annual Conference 2013, London.
In recent years vernacular photographic practices have become integral participants in the formation of narratives within the media, the art sphere, as well as academic discourses on global and local political phenomena. What seems to have begun as a practice offering counter-narratives to those disseminated by authoritative sources has gradually been adopted by the latter as a means used to enhance their own credibility. This neutralization of alternative photographic forms of political narration has effectively deprived mainstream unprofessional photographic practices of their political diversity.
In this paper I focused on the photographic practice of Lomography as an exploratory technology capable of reengaging viewers with the most fundamental complexities of the relationship between photography, the political and the politics of vision. Established in Vienna in 1992, the Lomographic Society International (LSI) has encouraged its members to use the former Soviet Union LOMO LC-A camera and its newly designed successors as an alternative, unpredicted and unstable image-making technology. Prompting Lomographers to obey no representational rules while also organising exhibitions to display their work on the democratic LomoWall, the LSI has effectively fostered a community of photographic image-makers preoccupied with the transformation of mundane realities into representational alter-realities that do not often conform to established and institutionalised visual regimes. Lomography, I argued, foregrounds an alternative vernacular visual politics which allows for the negation of the normative Kodak ideology, opening up the question of the relationship between photographic representation and politics anew.
19 November 2012, European Travellers in Palestine: The Issue of Trust and “Political Correctness” in the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum and Ursula Biemann’s X-Mission. ICS Cinema, the University of Leeds.
In this talk I perused the visual traditions utilised in Nervus Rerum (2008) and X-Mission (2008) with a view to investigating what support they offer to the informative and political values these two video essays diffuse. Both the Otolith Group and Biemann’s work focus on the perceived physical, political and existential conditions shared by Palestinian refugees. Nervus Rerum is explicitly preoccupied with the challenge of representing people who have no formal political representation. Likewise, X-Mission employs pseudo-scientific informative conventions to portray an incoherent Palestinian reality, isolated from the realities of any other refugees. I suggested that in both of these cases, the Palestinian people paradoxically emerge as “modern heroes”, engaged with political thought and in global politics while recognising a necessity to obliterate these if they wish to earn political emancipation. Yet, as the Palestinian people have been internationally deprived of any formal representative political agency, the Otolith Group as well as Biemann’s video essays cannot be perceived as loyal to the Palestinian cause or experience. Instead, I proposed to think of them in line with the nineteenth-century representational conventions used in colonialist travellers’ diaries. As such, Nervus Rerum and X-Mission are understood as audio-visual documents that give expression to European post-colonialist desires in the era of “political correctness”.
I gave this talk as part of A Thing Like You and Me, a four-part screening and talks programme supported by the Arts Council England, PVAC and Pavilion arts organisation. The screening programme explores the relationship of the documentary ‘real’ and essayistic ‘fiction’ in contemporary artists’ video works, in both their analogue and digital form. The series re-examines the politics of representation, and the question of looking ‘at’ and ‘to’ one another in the twenty-first century. A Thing Like You and Me has been conceived and organised by Amy Charlesworth (a doctoral student at the University of Leeds) in collaboration with Director of Pavilion, Gill Park.
6 October 2012, Scabbed Pictures: On the Familial Birth of National Postmemories. Invited lecture for the conference, Urban Encounters: The Image of Public Space, Tate Britain, London
This talk revisited a body of research that I completed and published in 2009: Pasternak, Gil, “Covering Horror: Family Photographs in Israeli Reportage on Terrorism,” Object, 11: 87-104, London: Routledge, 2009. Focusing on the presentation of family photographs in reports on politically-motivated violent attacks in the leading Israeli dailies since the first intifada of 1987, I further elaborated upon the role such images play in the revision of Israeli history and historiography. 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. This talk aimed to provide a greater insight into the social and professional perception of this phenomenon in the context of the Israel-Palestinian struggle.
Drawing upon my talk at the Photographers’ Gallery – “… And I will Live Forever” – this talk expanded my investigation into the practice of family photography and its interrelationship with politics and the social domain. I questioned the political agency family photographs may contain within and beyond the narratives of family life and the domestic sphere. I looked into the visual formation and manifestation of cultural and social difference within the domestic environment, and the role family photographs play in the creation of knowledge, familiarity with the Other, and the enhancement of one’s social status. Addressing some visual examples taken from popular culture as well as from less conventional sources, the talk engaged with the fragmentary histories of family photographs, and aimed to challenge the commonly naive perception of this vernacular genre. A close attention was paid to advertising campaigns for point-and-shoot cameras, and the modes of photographic production they tend to propagate. By exposing family photographs as inherently connected to state and social politics, I expanded the current understanding of family photography and layed the groundwork for further studies of its potentially radical and subversive properties.
19 September 2012, Artistic Occupation: Camouflaging Difference in Photographic Imagery of the Middle East. Visual Communication and Globalization Symposium, at the University of Leeds.
In this invited presentation I looked into processes of cultural exchange and hybridisation carried out in and through photographic practices and images. It focused on nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-first century visual negotiations of social identities in the Middle East, in the light of colonialist expansion and military conquest. I demonstrated that these inform the visual vocabularies and subjectivities in question, complicating normative narratives about, and the perception of the peoples living in this geographical terrain.
18 September 2012, “… And I will Live Forever”: The Intimate Politics of Family Photographs. The Photographers’ Gallery, London.
This invited talk investigated the practice of family photography and its interrelationship with the social domain, with state politics, and issues of cultural difference, class, nationalism and racism. Addressing some visual examples taken from popular culture as well as from less conventional sources, my talk engaged with the fragmentary histories of family photography, and challenged some of the most prominent historical and sociological debates about family photographs. I questioned what political agency family photographs might contain within and beyond the narratives of family life and the domestic sphere.
This talk coincided with Fiona Tan’s exhibition at the Gallery, whose artistic practice makes use of family photographs to explore private modes of representation and their meanings in broader social and cultural contexts.
7 June 2012, Jewish Soldiers of the Time: Ethos, Pathos and Logos in Rineke Dijkstra’s “Israel Portraits”. In the conference Insight Palestina: Images, Discourses, and the Image of Discourse, The University of Leeds.
Co-organised by Lior Libman (the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and myself, and featuring Prof. Griselda Pollock, Prof. Sander Gilman and Dr. Ihab Saloul as keynote speakers, Insight Palestina was a one-day international conference which investigated visual and textual images produced within, and in relation to, the circumstances of the Israel-Palestine struggle.
My paper took issue with Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra’s photographic series ‘Israel Portraits’, solicited by the Herzliya Museum of Art (Israel) in 1999. ‘Israel Portraits’ depicts Israeli soldiers in military camps and off-duty, at home. Connoting the Israeli State and its perceived militant disposition, the photographs feature specific faces whose alleged social role at present is to defend the Israelis and their territorial land against the Palestinians. However, due to the representational gaze utilised by Dijkstra, I argued that ‘Israel Portraits’ imbues Israeli soldierly identity with indicators of physical vulnerability as well as emotional insecurity. In doing so, the photographs open up a representational space that permits historically repressed images of the Diasporic Jew to reappear. This involuntary reincarnation of the ‘helpless’ Jew within Israeli visual culture, and in association with state’s symbols of power, unleashes a political consciousness that mirrors, rather than polarises the precarious lived and narrated experiences of Palestinians and Israelis, uprooting the prescribed roles often associated with them within belligerent political ideologies.
6 June 2012, Yael Bartana, Leeds Art Gallery (in collaboration with Pavilion and the University of Huddersfield).
This event extended the activities of the Insight Palestina conference (see 7 June 2012 above), co-organised by Dr Gil Pasternak (University of Huddersfield) and Lior Libman (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). Pavilion presented a screening of short films by Yael Bartana. In her photographs, films and installations Bartana critically investigates her native country’s struggle for identity. Her early work documents collective rituals introducing alienation effects such as slow-motion and sound. In her recent work the artist stages situations and introduces fictive moments into real existing narratives. The programme of films was introduced by Gill Park (Director of Pavilion), Gil Pasternak and Lior Libman. It included Bartana’s Kings of the Hill (2003), Wild Seeds (2005), Trembling Time (2001), Low Relief II (2004) and When Adar Enters (2004).
2012, University of London Research Skills Intercollegiate Network (ReSkIN). University of London, UK
2011, An Innocent Politics?: Investigating Family Photography in Modern Israel. The Photographers’ Gallery, London.
2010, “The Brownies in Palestina”: Politicising geographies in family photographs. In the conference, Emerging Landscapes: Between Production and Representation, University of Westminster, London.
2010, Supplementary Conflicts: Domesticities and Life Histories in War Time, AAH10 University of Glasgow. Convenor and chair of a one-day international conference held as part of the 36th annual Conference of the Association of Art Historians in April 2010. Supplementary Conflicts explored private visual responses to conflict, defined as the activities of any armed grouping prepared to use lethal force to achieve political aims.
2009, Playing Soldiers: Posing Militarism in the Domestic Sphere. Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College London.
2009, Supplementary Histories: On the Subversive Power of Family Photographs. Chelsea College of Art and Design, London.
2009, Covering Horror: Family Photographs in Israeli Reportage on Terrorism. The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
2009, Visual Conflicts: Art History and the Formation of Political Memory, University College London. Co-organiser and chair of a one-day international AHRC funded conference. Visual Conflicts developed links between issues of memory formation, the politics of violence and visual representation.
2008, Annual Conference of the Association of Art Historians (AAH), Tate Britain, London. Paper: Posthumous Interruptions: The Political Life of Family Photographs in Israeli Military Cemeteries.
2007, Posthumous Interruptions: The Political Life of Family Photographs in Israeli Military Cemeteries. University College London.
2005, Research Spaces: Materialisations of Practice in Art and Architecture, University College London. Co-organiser of the second annual research conference hosted by the Bartlett School of Architecture and the Slade School of Fine Art.
2004, Cinephilia, University College London. Presenting and discussing my video-art piece Untitled 2003.
2004, Cake or Cherries: a lecture/performance, Westminster University, London.