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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shai Kremer- Between Art and Documentary Photography

Amid all of the developments in the Middle East, Shai Kremer hopes to help people understand the region through his photographs. His exhibition “Infected Landscape” opened at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in Tampa on May 29.
The New York and Tel-Aviv based Kremer documents the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a conflict he has breathed and lived in for many years.
"You don’t feel the war when you live in Tel Aviv, you just live a normal life like you live in a routine of everyday life under occupation, 43 years of living under control of a military that decides if you're going to study in the next town or not, or if you're going to a doctor or not. ..."

Kremer’s seven years of work, photographic discoveries and research is compiled into the “Infected Landscape.”
"I believe in the force of this medium, photography in order to make a changes — not apparent changes most of the time, but it's something that donates to this effort to make a change. It’s like a small drop but still, it’s worth something, and it’s worth my sweat and my time and my energy doing that."

Unlike war photographer Robert Capa, who mainly documented the flesh and blood in the battles, Kremer focuses his camera lens on the desolate Middle East landscape torn by conflict and by terror. Ruins of military training zones and illegal settlements dominate his images, and the people remain small figures in the landscape. In his photographs, Kremer juxtaposes beauty and terror. His images are, as he says, the “metaphoric portrayal of the military disfiguration of the Israeli landscape” symbolized through chopped-down olive trees and ruins of destroyed military bases.
"I am taking a step backwards, and create this composition in order to be like very seductive, and to talk about beauty, and from that to engage the audience, to (seduce) them to see it and spend more time, then they see the pattern; they see whatever each one relates to in the image. The message gets inside like in a more effective way than if it was an image of blood and fire and war, something like that that was just fleeting, because you saw that yesterday, the same image, another image the day before, so it's something unusual."

His devotion for social documentary photography comes with a price. During the Lebanon war, in 2006, while he was on assignment for The New York Times, he risked being shot at and arrested when he photographed a chopper landing in a temporary landing zone in Haifa.
"I saw another chopper that was about to land, and there was a group of birds that was following him. So it was like formation, and it was a great metaphor, because that's what I was assigned to portray during these ten days the Israeli people. So I thought it's a great metaphor to show a group that was following the force. It was ninety percent of the population of Israel back then that was for the war in Lebanon."

In his images, Kremer plays with the gap between beauty and terror. And he provides food for thought and a fresh angle of view.
"If people knew how to listen, and how to accept the other, and to have a dialogue and to respect the other narrative, I think we will be in a much different place than where we are now."

For his images, he calls for a global dialogue.
"I am not against or for the Arabs or Israelis; I think they are both wrong. … I don’t have something against the soldiers; I think they are innocent and just doing their job most of the time. I am coming against the political decisions that make these things happen. That's what I am critiquing. It’s about Israeli society and the way it continues to be a more military country — the way this phenomenon is getting on and on."

He says that his call for an open dialogue among artists and the audience was received differently in Israel.
"It wasn’t talk, it was more shouting. The crowd was splitting in two, and it was like that. I could barely talk. In other places it was more like what we saw today. I could explain my project and my work."

Joanne Milani is the curator of the museum. She says the museum welcomes artists with different opinions. She was drawn to show Shai Kremer by Julie Saul, gallery owner.
"She is a woman with Tampa roots, who has a very successful New York photography gallery. And she brought to our attention Shai Kremer. And we were fascinated by the quality of his work, by the issues he addressed, even though it certainly raises controversial questions about the politics of the region. We decided this was an exhibition we couldn't pass up," she said.

"I am just happy that … Muslims and Jews will be talking and on the background is my work. By that I think I accomplished my mission. It’s a very nice finishing process," Kremer said.

The exhibition ran at FMOPA through July 17. For additional information, visit
The New York Times Magazine article mentioned in the story can be found here.

Audio File on Youtube.

Shai Kremer's website.

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