Inauguration of the photographic exhibition by Wendy Sue Lamm
with Wendy Sue Lamm
presented by Andrea Jacchia and Giancarlo Pauletto
Can a tormented land, fractured with hatred between its peoples, still be called the “Land of Miracles?” The work of American photographer Wendy Sue Lamm, who forged her skills as a photojournalist at France Press, with her rapid shooting technique and immediacy that are at the basis of journalistic awareness, is an attempt to provide a sincere and meaningful response to this anguishing question.
The photographer’s lens captures fragments of images, moments of blood and terror, juxtaposing these with other moments of tenderness and delicacy and, at times, irony, and in this way illustrates the absurdity and the abstract – but, unfortunately, real – nature of the daily life of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Day-to-day life revolving around fear and death, guerrilla warfare and reprisals, immortalized on film with a delicately ironical eye to describe a land where the true miracle would be peaceful coexistence, the possibility of waking up each morning, and simply living normally.
The exhibition, arranged by Giancarlo Pauletto, is promoted and organized by the Municipality of Pordenone as part of the Dedica festival, in collaboration with Associazione Thesis and Agenzia Contrasto.
Read From the land of miracles by Giancarlo Pauletto, The successors by Andrea Jacchia (below).
Wendy Sue Lamm
was born in Los Angeles in 1964. She graduated in 1988 from the University of California, Berkeley, and since 1998 has worked for the Italian Agenzia Contrasto. Her photographs are exhibited in many of the world’s major museums, and regularly published in prestigious periodicals including “New York Times Magazine”, “Newsweek”, “Geo”, “Der Spiegel” and “Elle”. Her work has earned her a number of prizes, such as the World Press Photo Award, an important international photojournalism prize, and in 1996 the Pulitzer Spot News Reporting Award for her photographs of the earthquake in Northridge.
art critic and historian, works in the field of visual arts for the Centro di Iniziative Culturali di Pordenone (Centre for Cultural Initiatives, Pordenone). He has coordinated events, exhibitions, catalogues and monographs for the city’s Municipal Museum, for the Province of Pordenone and for a number of other public and private organizations.
journalist, sensitive intellectual, attentive traveller and renowned art expert, edits the Diario page.
WENDY SUE LAMM’S TIME INCARNATE
From the land of miracles
by Giancarlo Pauletto
What we see on television and read in the papers, or what we find in books and magazine articles in our personal attempts to reach an understanding of the facts about the current situation in Palestine, all serves to show that the title of this exhibition of photographs by Wendy Sue Lamm is not only appropriate, but is a beautiful title as well.
From the Land of Miracles is an exhibition that provides a perfect complement to the presence of Amos Oz in Pordenone. The title is appropriate because Palestine is a land of miracles above all (and, we might say, obviously) in relation to the three great religions – Jewish, Christian and Islamic – that consider this land sacred. All three are present in this exhibition, in images that show their social as well as ritual aspects.
But Palestine is also a land of miracles because, in the midst of so much tension, violence, desperation and terror, life goes on. The daily routine somehow wins out, and beside soldiers outfitted for combat we see people going to the beach, swimming in the Dead Sea, or doing their shopping at the market, while children play, a gardener waters a lawn, Russian Orthodox pilgrims bathe in the River Jordan, and someone thinks of putting new plants in a new garden.
The key to the exhibition’s aesthetic is its directness, the use of close-ups, the emphasis on a present time that is immediately felt in the sharp perspectives, the figures, the colours of the images.
It did not necessarily have to be like this. There is much photographic coverage of Palestine in which the key element is not daily life but the eternal religious character of this land, so significant for the history of so many people, expressed in visions of light and shadow that make it the suspended theatre of a divine epiphany. Wendy Sue Lamm’s vision, on the contrary, is characterised by a deep sense of things, bodies, faces – one could even say smells – and her lens does not so much frame the scene as enter into it, drawing us in as well and forcing us to participate.
Many examples can be given. At Hebron, on the West Bank, a rock-throwing Palestinian is killed by Israeli soldiers during a confrontation. The violence of this image is expressed in the bent-over position of the soldiers, with their weapons poised; in the gesture of the thrower, an instant before falling to the ground; in the desolate materialness of the rocks littering the pavement. There is here an evident will to bear witness to the event.
There is no shrinking from the immediacy of what is happening. Similarly, in the next, terrible image, from Jerusalem, we see a rescue squad rushing to carry away a victim of a suicide attack in a pedestrian zone in the centre of the city.
Here, too, the framing of the image emphasises the photographer’s intention to draw us immediately into the event. Rather than centering the image on the victim’s body, she causes our eye to examine the context, to notice the gaze of the onlookers, the almost estranged figure of the girl in black, the signs along the street where the attack took place.
An identical intention can be felt in the next photograph, which portrays a poster put up in memory of victims of terrorism in the central Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. The eye moves down the image and comes to rest at the centre of the scene. The bent-over figures in the foreground serve to pull the viewer into the space depicted.
They are all like this, so it is evidently a question of choice, a conscious decision to reinforce this “being in the middle”, this “participation”, by highlighting the material quality of things and by using close-ups of details, hands, faces, signs: the red flesh of a freshly butchered sheep; a white dove for sale, situated in the centre of the photograph; brightly coloured tomatoes in the market; a hand touching the Wailing Wall; or a close-up of another hand covering the face of an arrested suspect. There are also scenes that are more formally composed, though never lacking in that sense of immediacy, such as the image of a teenage couple embracing during a holiday celebration, framed within gauzy veils of pink, almost like wedding decorations, or the baby Jesus statuettes on sale in a shop near the Church of the Nativity. There is the image of Tel Aviv youngsters, perfectly composed within the compact frame of the photograph, and two pictures taken in the ultra-orthodox quarter of Mea Shearim, where the dark colours of hats and clothing, and the light colours of the flyers thrown into the air or of the pavement below, make it inevitable to see this as photography based on composition.
So the exhibition’s title is appropriate.
But it is beautiful as well, because if a title is appropriate, if it defines precisely the nature of the theme – in this case the nature of Wendy Sue Lamm’s vision of Palestine – then it is also a beautiful title, one that could not be different, that we could not change. Just as we would never want to change the two images that respectively open and close the exhibition.
In the first of these, some children are bathing in the Mediterranean, in the Gaza Strip area. One of them is playing – or so it seems – with a plastic bottle that has two small fish inside. This is a surreal image, almost like a magic trick, and is a fitting introduction to the situations and “miracles” that we can see in this series of photographs that bear extraordinary witness to a historic tragedy, but also to an unstoppable will to live, to a land destined to be a testing ground for the sincerity of so many cultural and political positions. In the last photograph, a figure struggles its way through the mud on the banks of the Dead Sea. This figure necessarily attracts our attention because it is a human figure, but most of the photographic space is taken up by the dark, dense mud that seems eternally to imprison whatever falls into it.
It is hard not to see this truly intense image as a powerful metaphor for the negative forces that tenaciously block the road to peace – a peace that would be a great sign not only for the land of Palestine, but for the whole world.
by Andrea Jacchia
Milan, 22 February, 2007
I once had a dream; we were living in London already. Suddenly a group of people burst through the door, saying we had to leave. Two thousand years earlier their ancestors used to live there. Hence, the house was theirs. I must admit that, in the light of the unspeakable horrors which we have witnessed, there wasn’t or didn’t seem to be any alternative. And I’m glad for each of them that saved himself by going there.
Ernst H. Gombrich, Topics of Our Time
This set of photos by Wendy Sue Lamm suggests another, rather invisible, one: that of Wendy Sue Lamm actually snapping the pictures in Israel and the Palestinian areas. We could look at her work it this way: Wendy Sue Lamm experienced the longest and muddiest war of our times firsthand; then she went through the life of that conflict and the sinister movement of an enduring hate. The result took different forms: portraits, sketches, profiles or sudden all-embracing pictures, broad snapshots of the events, where anyone (Palestinians, Israelis, outside observers) can focus his/her attention or passions on the details that most strike him/her: think of Guernica, at how we linger on the detail of the lamp or of the Cubist bull’s head; or think of yourself in front of Paolo Uccello’s Battle of San Romano, losing yourself amidst the horses and lances. But all these pictures have something that’s absent from most of the numerous photos about the Israelis’ and Palestinians’ mirrored hate: Wendy Sue Lamm’s art persuades you to ask yourself what or who comes along after those pictures; what news item could be lurking round the corner from a battle, a funeral, a snapshot of market life, a gathering of kids on the beach. In other words: it’s not very common, when staring at a picture, to ask yourself what life that image’s characters might have. It could be easily said that Wendy’s more attracted to people than to a people; or that, unconsciously (as is often the case with artists), she has managed to capture a snapshot of reality in a constantly unreal situation.
This set of pictures is called From the Land of Miracles and Wendy Sue Lamm closes the volume with the following words: “You can’t stop love”. It’s a great appeal, but it seems to be directed more to our descendants than to us. As far as the miracles are concerned, the most immediate of these pictures seem to deal with a certain idea of time. The men and women of Wendy Sue Lamm’s sketches, portraits and profiles seem to speak above all their past and unfathomable future. Against all evidence (clashes, funerals, stone-throwing, weapons, death: normal but suspended lives), they don’t belong to the present, or at best they seem to view it through the lens of what’s already happened or of what might happen. In short, the strength of Wendy Sue Lamm’s research and insight could be summed up in another apparently ironic title: “In Search of Wasted Time” (one that keeps being wasted every day).
At this point we could ask ourselves how much these photos describe reality, or have the capacity of creating a whole new one, or even contain a number of possible codes and captions. Thus, while looking at them, imagine being immersed in the peace and tranquillity of an art gallery or museum.
These are just a few examples; anyone’s free to choose his/her favourite pictures. But they more or less some up Wendy Sue Lamm’s favourite subjects: close-ups, profiles, body details, places often unidentifiable, advertising images. In the end, a collection of artfully chosen symbols, clearly a sign of a very alert subconscious.
Since all these pictures deal with two opposing factions, one should first look at them and they try to see them from both perspectives. The Palestinians could use for the Israelis a not-too-well-known expression used by art historian Ernst H. Gombrich to describe the Jewish minority in a non-Jewish world: “An ideological niche in relation to others.” On the other hand, the Israelis could define the Palestinians with something along these lines: “An absent people who made themselves increasingly present”.
In a way we could say that a third observer, the apparently external world, in this case Wendy Sue Lamm, took a picture of herself amidst them. Maybe the key to a different future for their descendants lies in this picture’s invisible caption.
Saturday 10 March, 17:30
Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Verdi
Pordenone - Viale Franco Martelli, 2