by: Jill Rubin on July 24th, 2012 | 8 Comments »
Photographer Claire Schwartz explores both sides of the Israeli West Bank Barrier and the Bethlehem/Jerusalem checkpoint in her series entitled israel.checkpoint.palestine.
Schwartz describes her photographs as a form of visual activism and social justice. “For me, art is all about my politics,” she says. “It is a way of being creative and expressing things that are political.”
Schwartz’s photographs evoke the stark differences in life on both sides of the wall. One photograph depicts a nationalistic poster saying, “Come and feel the glory of Israel.” Situated on the Israel side of the checkpoint, the poster is one of the first things a person sees when crossing the border. People entering the West Bank or Israel must move through this space, Schwartz points out, so the poster has a fixed propaganda purpose. “I think it really requires that you implicate your own identity as you’re passing through this,” she says, adding that a Jewish American tourist, an Israeli soldier, or a Palestinian entering Israel will each have a very different experience passing through the checkpoint and looking at that poster.
The photo series was inspired by Schwartz’s own complicated experience of going through the checkpoint. She says:
The ways that you’re sort of systematically forced to identify are kind of in conflict with the ways that I wanted to identify. I was a Jew with an American passport, so I was moved really quickly through the checkpoint. At the same time there was a whole group of Palestinian people who was getting held up and being checked. My experience was a lot easier, a lot smoother, I was treated a lot better. That felt unjust. I feel we are deliberately being kept out of conversation.
Schwartz, a recent graduate of Williams College, started making this series after finishing a postgraduate fellowship in South Africa at the Economic Policy Research Institute. With no obligations tying her down, she decided to travel and explore. She flew to Israel and decided to visit a friend in the occupied West Bank.
Schwartz remembers noticing the juxtaposition between her extreme mobility at that point in her life and the limited mobility available to Palestinians in their country. Also, her prior experience in South Africa greatly increased her interest in this site and the photograph series.
“Having been also in post-apartheid South Africa I’d just been thinking a lot about the way movement is racialized, and available to certain people based on race or nationality,” she says. But she is careful to clarify that she does not see the situation in Israel as equivalent to South African apartheid. When people “map other political situations onto it, like apartheid or segregation in the United States,” it is doing a disservice to the true issue, she says.
Schwartz had been to Israel once before on a family vacation but her family, a large group of American Jews, stayed on the Israel side of the wall. Upon her return, she visited a friend in the West Bank and began to question the way spaces are marked and how identity plays a large role in the way one passes through the checkpoint.
Although she said there is no didactic message behind her series, Schwartz says she ultimately wants “people to stop and think” about how “everyone doesn’t necessarily have equal access to all of these spaces and they don’t mean the same thing because of the kinds of movements that are restricted.” She believes the Occupation needs to stop, but recognizes the complications and intricacies behind the issue.
Schwartz draws photographic inspiration from the candid quality of photos taken by Elinor Carucci, an Israeli-American photographer. “I think she doesn’t put that much distance between the camera and the way she lives,” Schwartz says.
Her second influence is Anton Kusters, who is working on a project that involves traveling to Nazi Concentration Camps, lying on the ground at each camp, taking a photograph of the sky, and putting the photographs into a mosaic. “There’s no way that you would visually be able to identify that these are from concentration camps,” Schwartz says. “You have to trust him as an artist, and his word and what he’s showing you.”
Schwartz strongly identifies with this idea that viewers must trust the artist and the experience to allow themselves to enter it. There is a mutual respect and confidence that must take place in order for understanding to occur.
She is currently working with her grandfather, an amateur photographer, on a series entitled The whole world is a village. Together they are combining some of her grandfather’s old family photos and some of her own photos into a mixed media collage. This series can be found on her website.