The current exhibition of works by Eldad Rafaeli (b. 1964) consists of three distinct bodies of work, which collectively present a single continuous, dynamic photographic enterprise, spanning two decades of intensive photography. The series are screened in quick succession, the photographs changing at regular intervals, in chronological order within each series. The soundtrack accompanying the projected images – beats on a large drum – is suggestive of heartbeats, ancient ceremonies, and the distant rumble of armored vehicles. In his series Territories, Rafaeli presents events that he witnessed in 1996 in Gaza, Hebron, Nablus, East Jerusalem, and the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip (collectively known as the “Gaza Envelope”). The second group of works, Disengagement, documents Israel’s “disengagement” (withdrawal) from the Gaza Strip and evacuation of its Israeli settlements in 2004-2005. The third series, Envelope, which is presented not only in projection form but also as a display of six still images within lightboxes, depicts the fire-scorched areas of the “Gaza Envelope” region in the final months of 2018.
Early on in his career, Rafaeli went out to the conflict zones as a press photographer. As time went by, however, he developed a personal, associative and poetic visual diary in parallel with his press work, which built up over time into a photographic archive of thousands of items. The photographs presented here reveal the dual nature of a nuanced representation of a newsworthy event, in that it is both part of the tradition of photography and an expression of the photographer‘s unique view of it.
The projected images are reflective both of the news dynamic and of the ubiquitous availability of photographed images in a multi-channel digital age. The photographs of the series Territories, which were taken as far back as the early 1990s, depict pivotal moments of protest events, marches, funerals, stone-throwing, and dramatic incident scenes. Their main focus is people: men and women, boys and girls, male and female youths, soldiers and police. All are present, deployed and operating in dramatic situations.
The facial expressions, the outstretched arm, the tight-knit group and body movements dominate the photographic frame. From within the turmoil and commotion, Rafaeli isolates and freeze-frames a powerful distillation that builds up into a highly charged image of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Holy Land. The landscape images in the Disengagement series are both spectacular and terrifying. Layers of burnt earth, miles upon miles of wild expanses, fenced buffer zones and observation posts stretching as far as the horizon, and fields bearing the remnants of vegetation and animals; in these photographs, a topographic landscape becomes an abandoned arena, with countless indications of recent drama. Rafaeli returns to the scene of events as though it were a battlefield, from which he must collect anyone that was left behind – following the trail of signs etched in the ground, evidence of a tragic story that repeats itself again and again, in an endless and predetermined cycle.