Josef Koudelka: Wall
Text by Ray Dolphin, Gilad Baram.
Josef Koudelka’s Wall comprises panoramic landscape photographs made from 2008–2012 in East Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Bethlehem and in various Israeli settlements along the route of the barrier separating Israel and Palestine. Whereas Israel calls it the “security fence,” Palestinians call it the “apartheid wall,” and groups like Human Rights Watch use the term “separation barrier,” Koudelka’s project is metaphorical in nature--focused on the wall as a human fissure in the natural landscape. Sometimes blocks of concrete define the panoramas; at other times displaced olive trees--a lifeline for one man, collateral damage in another’s claim for territory--subtly emerge. As in his Black Triangle project, made in the Bohemian foothills of the Ore Mountains in the early 1990s, Wall conveys the fraught relationships between man and nature and between closely related cultures. A chronology, lexicon and captions provide context for the photographs. The book is designed by Xavier Barral, working closely with Koudelka. Wall is part of a larger project, This Place, initiated by photographer Frederic Brenner. This Place explores Israel as place and metaphor through the eyes of 12 acclaimed photographers, who were invited to look beyond dominant political narratives and to explore the complexity of the place--not to judge, but to question and to reveal.
In 1968, Josef Koudelka (born 1938) photographed the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, publishing these images under the initials P.P. (Prague Photographer). Koudelka left Czechoslovakia in 1970, became stateless, was then granted political asylum in England, and shortly thereafter joined Magnum Photos. Prior to Wall, Koudelka published ten books of photographs focusing on the relationship between contemporary man and the landscape, including Gypsies (1975), Exiles (1988), Black Triangle (1994) and Invasion 68: Prague (2008). Significant exhibitions of his work have been held at The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the International Center of Photography, New York. In 2012, Koudelka was named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.
Featured image is reproduced from Josef Koudelka: Wall.
PRAISE AND REVIEWS
Individually, these photographs of the ‘security fence’ (as Israelis call it) or the apartheid wall (as it is known by the Palestinians whose lives and landscape are blighted by it) have a stark and spectacular beauty. Taken together they create a daunting feeling of visual incarceration so intense, on a scale so massive, that the sky itself is — by turns — implicated, outraged.
Josef Koudelka's WALL is not a neutral assisment of Israel's construction of a 430- mile barrier separating Israel from the West Bank. His panoramic, black-and-white photographs of the structure and other significant landmarks, made between 2008 and 2012, are disorienting and brutal, utilizing motion blur, angled horizons and perspectives -ranging from expansive to intensely close-up - to contemplate the barrier's material and psychological effects. The captions for the images and other texts, written by researcher and writer Ray Dolphin, by and large focus on the questionable route of the wall and the hardships it's imposed on West Bank Palestinians.
WALL: ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN LANDSCAPE, 2008-2012 is Josef Koudelka's book of purposely ugly photos- from which we cannot turn away. His expansive, brooding black-and-white panoramas have a paradoxical effect: Rather than expand our field of vision they close us in, evoking the experience of closed-off lands and claustrophobic, walled-in streets. The images show not only the familiar eight-meter-tall concrete slabs of what Israel's government calls the "security fence" and Palestinians refer to as the "apartheid wall", but also barbed wire, gates, cages, observation towers, and all the other machinery of segregation.
The New York Times Book Review
The vistas are resolutely grim, and Koudelka makes no attempt to aestheticize them, yet his sweeping photos are overwhelming. The moral chasm that opens between the sheer impact of the visual and knowledge of what is being depicted is fully intended: an invitation to consider, rather than to simply turn the page in horror and sadness.