John Hurrell – 25 March, 2016
For those of us who have never visited this city, these photographs pack in a lot of information, such as the types of product being sold, the market being pitched to, the ethnic traditions of the shopkeepers, the architectural backgrounds around each stall and materials used.
Faces of Jerusalem: An Interfaith Journey
20 February - 1 May 2016
A suite of 27 photographs that look at some of the personalities who operate as vendors in the four quarters (Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, Christian) within the Old City of Jerusalem, Ilan Wittenberg’s images are characterised by density of detail, spectacular acuity and lots of tonal midrange. Almost everything is in focus, there is very little bright white, and the eye is caressed as it wanders across the print’s surface. Even with the deep perspective of (say) receding shelves, the plethora of detail flattens and accentuates the picture plane.
For those of us who have never visited this city, these photographs pack in a lot of information, such as the types of product being sold, the market being pitched to, the ethnic traditions of the shopkeepers, the architectural backgrounds around each stall and materials used. We see (for example) pistachios, hookahs, oils, prayer beads, gas cylinders, images of saints, plates, busts, incense, brass gongs, bells, tobacco, tea, tunics, smocks, lamps, and plaques - a vast range of easy-to-transport (instantly purchasable) merchandise. Here is a selection of Wittenberg’s images with this link.
It is the fineness of the detail, an intricacy of each particular documented element that fascinates, a compactness that is without graininess or blur, that density providing clarity.
While about three-quarters of the images feature vendors (most indoors, one outside), there are also a few street shots of people out and about, like a boy with a cart, or a nun crossing the street. The titles however are pretty non-descript and it is a shame they don’t include the subjects’ names, so that the cultural mix is made even more immediately apparent and we can get more specific information about their stories.
Somehow there is something missing with this show. These are terrific images that are loaded with information you can extract (if you are familiar with the city), but a few details in the titles - identifying each person and each site - would have made it so much richer for a New Zealand audience. Less touristy and shallow. Less voyeuristic. More contextual.