Agents of Truth and Shapers of Memory /
Vardi Kahana - curator's essay for 'Photographic Memory' at the Israel Photo Fest


In the old world photographers were scientists, members of a guild of experts in the know. The magic and mystery of operating a camera mistakenly endowed it with the sublime attribute of achieving absolute objectivity, of perpetuating truth.

Throughout the 20th century press photographers were regarded as agents of this selfsame “truth”, mediating its transmission from the scene of the event or the field of battle to the newspaper in the home. And that is how the flash that froze a moment in time became a representational iconic image of history shaping memory.

Photographers concurrently populated the developing medium in the field of art with new innovative images. They never pursued nor even felt indebted to “truth”. Indeed in the field of art, from the time of Dadaism and Surrealism at the dawn of the 20th century to the development of the “new medium” at the century’s end, photography seemingly tended to treat reality by means of invention. Art photographers are mostly concerned with the medium per se – stretching the limits of technique and reappraising traditional stances with regard to fact and fiction, representation and remembrance.

In the 21st century, photography is devoid of any halo of expertise. The medium has been breached and professional knowledge has become available to one and all. The era of the “agents of truth” has ended. The private and public domains are flooded with the white noise of processed fictional images that obviate any attempt to devise a hierarchy of quality and importance, to discriminate between the professional and the amateur, between reflected and simulated reality and between fantasy and memory.

The camera has become an incidental product embedded in a mobile phone stuffed inside a pocket like a bunch of keys or small change. Contemporary times have witnessed the beginning of much confusion and increasing doubt as well as the present day demise of the discourse on “objective truth”. Today, everyone possesses one’s own camera and one’s “own truth”.

Photographic memory is an intricate web of personal associations and built-in threads of thought. The exhibition somewhat unravels the tangle, marking it with parallel and intersecting paths.

One such path is iconic photography – this selfsame moment-in-time-freezing flash burned into the collective consciousness, which has become a symbol of an event or a period. David Rubinger’s paratroopers at the Western Wall symbolizes the Six Day War forever in our minds, and the Bus 300 affair is also etched in our memory thanks to Alex Levac’s single image.

Another path deals with personal memory whether by objectification, as in the case of Yigal Shemtov’s series of photographs of handkerchiefs, or by commemorating the absent, as in Galia Gur Zeev’s series Aftermath.

In an additional direction, artists are examining the role of memory in promoting the national narrative. In his photographs of highway landscapes Matan Ashkenazy documents coming to a halt during sirens commemorating the Day of Remembrance, while in a different manner Raed Bawaya challenges this narrative in the series Identity Card.

Cruising between them all are photographs dealing in cataloging memory (Ilit Azoulay) and in simulated memory (Maya Zack); in renewed use of pictures from albums (Amit Sha’al, Liron Kroll); and in souvenir photos redeemed from oblivion (Hagar Ziegler).

The abundance of these as well as many other images commemorating personal and communal memories are merely representative samples of a collection comprising our visual culture.

Curator’s words for the Photographic Memory exhibition at the International Photo Festival 2014


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