One of the main reasons that I am obsessed with political partition is because it is incredibly visual. Walls are extremely simple, easy to communicate, and read well as images. One of the challenges of Walking Walls was trying to make barriers look interesting and different after photographing them for 3 months straight. I remember thinking that I was grasping for ideas when I lay down in the wet grass to take this picture in Portadown one year ago today.
One of the wildest and most distinguishing features of the Buffer Zone is the gradual, yet definitive slide into the overgrown weeds that separate the two sides. It’s not hard to guess why the homes and businesses around the BZ are in disrepair; no one wants to own property on the front lines of an unsettled war. But its important to note that the Buffer Zone is not a clean cut through a swath of Cyprus, it’s more like a disease that taints everything it touches and then some. Cities and neighborhoods can go on with an amputation, but not a festering wound.
Last year on this day, 25 people were given a choice on the side of a highway in the West Bank: get back on the bus or be arrested. One of those choices was mine to make and with little hesitation, I climbed onto the bus and watched as many of my companions were taken into custody.
A half an hour before that, I had been talking to a Palestinian girl on our way to the weekly protest in Bil’in. She told me how her parents did not like her going to the protests for fear she would be arrested or injured. When our bus was pulled over at the flying checkpoint, I described what was happening outside and when they collected our IDs, she passed me her papers and I handed them over along with my American passport. I guided her into the aisle when they ordered us off the bus. I did all of these things because she was blind.
When we were given the ultimatum at the guardrail, she stayed, I left. I felt a bit like I had abandoned her, but I stand by my choice today. There was a great distance between us in that moment. It is even greater now.
A year ago at this time, I again enlisted the help of a Palestinian taxi driver during a foray in the West Bank. This time, I had a more clear destination (Walajeh), but not a very clear purpose or vision for my visit. The taxi driver had no problem stopping whenever I asked him to so that I could clamber out and take photos, but I found it hard to direct him. I was very used to wandering on my own, thinking, exploring any area of my choosing with my feet and camera.
It’s a nice way to work. But I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile this with the fact that you can sometimes accomplish more with a teammate, be it a taxi driver or a tour guide. In short, I was discovering that my workflow, and in some ways, the very nature of the project was incompatible with another person in the picture.
Admittedly, my perception that documentary photography is more of an individual pursuit than film-making was one of the reasons I was drawn to the field, after spending the latter portion of my teenage years agonizing over the fact that my friends never seemed to share my grand visions for movies we made for schoolwork or our own amusement. For the first year or two of focusing on still photography, I did feel more free, and it was great.
But I think that as my photography projects get more ambitious and demand greater insight and detailed planning, and as I find myself, ironically, working full-time at a company that produces documentary films (and other media), it’s definitely time to give this teamwork thing another go in my personal projects.
I took this picture during a trip to the West Bank for the sole purpose of using it as a decoy in case the Israeli police were to search my camera at the checkpoint. Cleverly, I thought, I used a separate memory card to photograph (badly, on purpose) this obscure Christian holy site. My plan was to swap out memory cards on the bus and pretend I was a religious pilgrim if questioned.
I was later informed by a Palestinian woman with considerably more experience in such matters that my tactics would have failed utterly because I was far too young to be a credible pilgrim.
Was she right? I will never know. Working this way definitely made me feel more paranoid, but also more badass. I think it was a reasonable trade-off.
No pictures today, it was a Saturday in 2012 and I was being an observant Gentile again. Shabbat had started to become something I greatly looked forward to and a much-needed time to recharge.
I didn’t keep a traditional journal during Walking Walls. I rely on my photos for a window to the past, leaving me blind to days where I didn’t commit any pixels to memory card.
For the most part, these gaps in the record bother me, but I think in the context of Shabbos it’s kind of nice. I can’t recall any scary or uncomfortable moments in my day, and I can surmise that my pursuits were restful, so I rewrite/remember January 28th, 2012 as a good day where not much happened, which is a very good thing, every once in a while.
I had been focusing my lens on the doorknob of a Settler house in Wadi Hilweh when angry voices burst out of the intercom in front of me. It was going to be a pretty innocent photo, a detail shot for a photo essay I was working on; not that this would have helped my case with the occupants. I was badly startled, and without hesitation started walking away as quickly as possible. Paranoia gripped me. The entire neighborhood was thick with cameras and it would have been easy for anybody on the other end to see exactly where I was headed. I imagined the occupants had called up to the security guards stationed at the City of David plaza, where I would have to pass through. In fact, the occupants could have been following me themselves.
To my surprise, no one seemed suspicious when I exited the neighborhood or the City of David area. It seemed I had made good my escape as I passed into the Old City and through large crowds. Later, I decided that it had been a decent adventure and that getting yelled at by a Settler in Wadi Hilweh was, in fact, a good achievement.
One year ago today, I went to Bethlehem for the first time and saw the wall up close. I wish that I had more time to explore it at my own pace, in addition to being whisked around by my enthusiastic taxi driver. Yousef was wonderful, but it would have been fascinating to get a closer look at the graffiti on the wall there. From what I did see, a lot of it was in English, Arabic a close second. Some of it was peaceful, some of it was angry. It felt immediate, important, and unsettling.