Stephen Shore's travels through Israel
In From Galilee to the Negev the photographer presents an impartial portrait of Israel and the West Bank
We tend to think of Stephen Shore as a native New Yorker, best suited to capturing, as his mid-seventies travelogue put it, American Surfaces. Yet for many years Shore has been extending his practice, with trips to Mexico, Ukraine and Abu Dhabi. One place he has returned to repeatedly over past two decades is Israel and the West Bank; Shore shot there in 1994, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Obviously, as a Jewish American, it's quite natural for Shore to take an interest in the region. Yet he doesn't approach his subject in any way doctrinaire. Indeed, the jacket blurb for his new book, From Galilee to the Negev, is prefaced with a quote from Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, cautioning that "Interpretations depend very much on who the interpreter is, who he or she is addressing, what his or her purpose is, at what historical moment the interpretation takes place."
Shore told Another Magazine he appreciates the challenge of his recent foreign trips saying, "the contrast was fascinating, even though I looked for the essence of all those places in pretty much the same way I have always worked back home."
It's a frank admittance, and in leafing through Shore's new title, with its contrasting images of pre-Christian ruins and beach scenes, roadside posters and desert horizons, it is clear that the photographer's interests are as all-consuming as ever, drawing viewers towards not one single viewpoint but, instead, to a multitude of conclusions.
Shore told the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, that during these visits he shot "people in the street, signs, food, portraits of people, architecture, landscapes in the Judean Desert and Galilee - things you see in everyday life."
Local photographer Gil Bar worked alongside Shore during his visits and concurs, telling the paper: "everything interested him. There was no hierarchy (among his subjects). As far as he was concerned, photographing in an exotic place such as Mount Gerizim, with the Samaritans, is exactly like photographing on some mundane street in Ramat Gan. The banal route that a person takes a hundred times from home to work is as interesting to him as the Amazon jungle."
Shore doesn't restrict himself to the region's largely Jewish areas, but shoots in predominantly Arab towns and cities, like Hebron and Ramallah. Nor does he focus on contemporary life, but intersperses his shots of market places and street signs with shots of architectural digs and timeless desert scenes; rolls of razor wire, discarded rifle rounds and fresh challah loaves.
The pictures are interspersed with a series of texts by writers including Yossi Klein Halevi, a Jerusalem-based author and journalist; Jane Kramer, staff writer at the New Yorker; Jodi Magness, archaeologist specialising in ancient Palestine in the Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic periods; Yotam Ottolenghi, chef and restaurant owner; and Ali Qleibo, artist, author and anthropologist at al-Quds University, Jerusalem.
They offer context, but don't attempt any overreaching reading of the country. As Shore told Haaretz, "I don't want to be the American saying, 'I understand the situation'."
He went on, "Israel is the land of multiple incompatible narratives. I came away with much stronger feelings for the country, a real love of the country, a deep wish that it be successful. At the same time I came away with the sense that I don't know how the conflict is going to be resolved." For a sharp portrait (with a distinct lack of resolution), take a look at his new book which you can pre-order here.