EYES WIDE OPEN
Text by: Diana Smyth
Publisher: The British Journal of Photography, vol. 152 no. 7560
Miki Kratsman explains to Diana Smyth why, as an Israeli photographer, he has focused on the inequities of the Israel/Palestinian conflict
Miki Kratsman was born in Argentina but emigrated to Israel when he was just 12, and has lived and worked there ever since. He considers himself an Israeli but, he says, ‘That doesn’t mean I agree with what we are doing in the occupied territories.’
In fact Kratsman has devoted his photographic career to exposing what he sees as the indefensible Israeli occupation of Palestine. After studying photography he worked as a staff photographer on the Hadashot daily newspaper for ten years, then the daily newspaper and Ha’ir weekend paper for another ten years, showing the explosive affect of the conflict on people in the occupied territories.
In addition to his work as a press photographer, he is also a photography tutor at Haifa University. His work with Haaretz continues and he makes regular trips to the territories. The newspaper prints a single, large image by him every week-but he has shifted his emphasis to everyday reality to the occupation, ‘I used to shoot more news projects. I started as a press photographer. And I’m still a press photographer’. He says. ‘But I realized that the difficult routine of daily life is the problem, although it less visually shocking. Its less dramatic but it is even more important for me to portray.’
Kratsma’s current project is a series of panoramas showing what he describes as the ‘architecture of Israeli occupation’. These largely focus on the wall that the Israelis have built across the Palestine since 2001, which both physically and symbolically separates the two peoples. This project also encompasses the security gates stationed along this wall, and the many checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel.
‘Previously there weren’t any checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel’ says Kratsman. ‘They started in 1991 during the Gulf War and I have been shooting them since them. Usually the guards try to stop you from taking photograph of the checkpoints. But I know that it’s legal so I do it anyway.’
One of these photographs shows a Palestinian family waiting to cross one of the checkpoints, their car full of children scrutinized by armed soldiers. Kratsman says he carefully considered the position from which he shot this image, unwilling to replicate the unequal power relation between the Palestinians and Israelis.
‘I was unsure of how to shoot it,’ he says. ‘Initially I was just shooting the soldiers as they searched the car but then I had a really strange experience when one family thought I was a soldier. I discussed it with one of my colleagues, and he said, ‘shoot inside the car’. But I didn’t think it was right to pretend was Palestinian.
‘Then one day I was at a checkpoint and the soldiers didn’t ask the family to open their window, they said it was enough to show the papers through the window. I had both the family and the reflection of the soldiers and I found the way to shoot. The position of the photographer is the most important thing to consider because you can create a point of view. The ethics are more important than the esthetic. ‘
More recently Kratsman was commissioned by a Canadian magazine to shoot Israeli settlements on disputed territories-some of which were forcibly evacuated this summer. Kratsman had never been to these areas before, as he was opposed to their construction, but said that the most shocking thing about these controversial settlements was how redundant they were.
‘I shot them before the evacuation but they already look evacuated’, he says. ‘no one went to live there. There was a handful of people on a huge territory. The Israeli government built thousand of houses with my taxes, in the hope that someone would go there’.
Kratsman’s work was first exhibited in 1988, and since then has been widely shown across Israel and Europe. He has welcomed the move away from press photography, which has allowed him to side-step the disjunction between ‘the data that the news editor needs and the image you want to show’. But he derives little satisfaction from his increasing international fame-to Kratsman, all that matters is that Israelis see his work.
‘It doesn’t matter whether people outside Israel see my work’, he says. ‘My aim is to show my people what we are doing, so I like to show my work in Israeli newspapers and museums. Its really important that I, as an Israeli, take these photographs. If Palestinian took them, it would be too easy for Israeli to say that they were biased. If I do it they can’t say that, and then they have to do something about it’.
And despite his success Kratsman fears he can never achieve his aim through photography. ‘If I could write, I would write’, he says. ‘I would like to be more clears about my message. With photographs everyone always has their own interpretation, and there are some things that the image cannot transmit.
‘If I believed that photograph could speak a thousand words I would be very happy.
But I don’t believe it.’