I suppose the hope of attending an exhibition is about how one might discover something, how the process of serendipity might lead to the possibility of revelation. When I took the opportunity that arose because I had to go to London for a meeting along The Strand it seemed a good idea to have a look at the Taylor Wessing show that I have written about here. It was with this chance of good fortune that I happened upon Fiona Yaron-Field’s work ‘Becoming Annalie‘, which in turn led me to her other work some of which can be found here.
Fiona Yaron-Field has used photography to find ways to deal with issues that she has decided to confront. In the work ‘beyond the wall’ the photographer has chosen to depict her own very personal reaction to the conflict between Israel and Palestine – or, to put it more precisely between the people of Palestine and the people of Israel, Israeli versus Palestinian. To do this “in country and across the divide” she negotiated with her
subjects, via third parties, in order to photograph men from both sides of the divide in what is currently, on 20th November 2012, a war zone again. To provide, via the medium of photography, a space that by its very nature presents a confrontation between two opposing peoples and by doing so re-contextualizes the conflict in purely human terms. The prints are hung on the four inside walls of a white cube, they therefore face each other, there is no delineation of ethnicity appended to the prints – so only they, the subjects, and the photographer know their lineage. They peer, rather than idly gaze into the room and directly opposite is another person, from the same geographical area staring right back at them. The viewer in the room is offered a view that these peoples are more alike than dissimilar; the viewer has no concept of where these people whose portraits stare at them come from and is left to judge by appearance only.
The project, as described in this interview, was a deeply personal response to the situation, Fiona Yaron-Field seemingly felt compelled to construct her own personal response to a situation she finds deeply troubling and puzzling, one that she felt she could no longer ignore. This is a work that is probably not going to provide any difference to a conflict that in all likelihood has already spread across their collective borders into neighbouring countries. A statement on a hostility that she fully accepts is worth is no more than a grain of sand on a very long beach, but that saying something was much better than saying nothing.
Whilst these socio-political issues remain unanswered other threads can be considered alongside the work’s original purpose. I was particularly struck by Fiona’s use of the ‘other’. When the work was conceived the ‘other’ was certainly the Israeli versus the Palestinian and vice versa. However when the exhibition was hung she noticed women’s reactions to the space. The white cube now had a set of men all looking into the room, and they seemed to be looking at whoever was in the room, the viewer started to notice that all the eyes were watching them. Yaron-Field noticed that the women would start to view the men as if they were deciding who was the most attractive male in the group. I wondered also about gender specific reactions to how it might feel, about whether the women might feel the weight of the patriarchal gaze of the men and what that might suggest to them, or whether male viewers would feel a sense of being scrutinized closely by other men, suspicious of their presence.
I asked Yaron-Field about the effect of scrutiny and she replied: ” The scrutinisation was in my mind when I hung the images, only it wasn’t exactly as I thought it would be. I hung the work with the viewer in mind, I imagined them in the space surrounded by the men and thought about their experience and how they will become part of the work. The viewer understands the political nature of the work, he understands these are men who are in conflict with each other but it is by his experience of the space that the idea begins to exists. He needs to make the connections. What I hadn’t anticipated till I stood in the space was that the men did not appear to look at each other but at me the viewer. The sense of being surrounded by them was very powerful. I am sure everyone’s experience would be different depending on their own personal history. For me I realized that I had been unconsciously working on another layer, a layer which is psychological and is about masculine and feminine parts of ourselves. As a woman I had been photographing these men to somehow connect to my own masculine power. I saw how I had made these men look very vulnerable and soft, almost feminine and that by facing these men, using the camera and being in the position of power it had made me more male. Connected me to my own masculine self a part of me that after many years of childcare had almost disappeared. I think its not about gender, its about ‘the other’.”
I was reminded of the WeAreOCA thread that was started by José recently and by how, by comparison to the comments in Source magazine they seem at odds with how deeply embedded this photographer is with her work, not just the work with her daughter, where she describes how she worked through her feelings after giving birth to her daughter Ophir that she has documented in a book here (another book ordered and on it’s way!), but also the work ‘beyond the wall’.
As mentioned earlier I came to this artists work via the Taylor Wessing 2012 exhibition at the NPG and this image in particular – Annalie, a striking and very simple portrait of a young woman. Fiona’s approach for this particular series is described here in a response she made to me: “When I first took a picture of a teenager with Downs syndrome against a wall, it was my daughter and actually it was the wall I wanted to photograph and I asked her stand in front of it. It seems obvious that she is up against a wall, that her horizon is blocked and also that I’m not sure as a parent I even want to look beyond the immediate and see into the distance. I don’t think any of this was in my mind when I decided to photograph her friends against walls only that it would make a great background and I wanted them outside in the world but not in a define recognizable place. I wanted their individual style to come through and I also wanted them to be ‘real’. The wall reflects more of their inner state rather than a specific position in the outer world. Maybe this is not dissimilar to Beyond The Wall”. I had wanted to understand the use of a wall in this work with the teenagers, about whether it had any significance and how that differed from the metaphorical use in ‘beyond the wall’, it appears that the photographer just likes walls and they provided a very useful back-drop, and the better for it.
Fiona’s book “Up Close” hasn’t arrived yet and I will add my comments to this entry when I have looked at it. I suspect I will find a lot to be inspired about, just as I have with her work that I’ve seen so far. Here is a link to a Guardian piece on “Up Close”