"Local Testimony" — A now classic, annual Israeli photography exhibit
The world's best photojournalism, each year, at Muza – Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv
As our regular readers know, Israel from the Inside is committed to exploring the complex mosaic that is Israel, through politics and security issues, of course, but also through music, art, poetry, some humor, and now, through photography. In today’s column we share with you a notable Israeli culture event called “Edut Mekomit” or Local Testimony. Local Testimony is an annual exhibit which displays documentary photography that might not have made it into mainstream media and news outlets.
Since 2003 Local Testimony has run annually at MUZA — The Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. Although the event cannot be fully experienced without being here, Daniel Gordis (and his wife) and I recently went to see this year’s exhibit. We hope this brief description will bring more attention to the event and its power, and we hope you’ll be able to see a future exhibit in person.
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The winning photograph of 2022 by Itai Ron is shown above (go onto the website at this link, and zoom in on the photo on a large screen for a better look). In the photograph, ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) youth have climbed a tree to watch the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky—the scene was too mobbed for them to see anything from ground level. But it takes a moment to realize what we’re seeing in the photograph. There has been much discussion in Israel—what did you think it was before you realized what it really is? What did you feel at first glance? And when you realized what it was? And what were the judges trying to say in making this the winning photograph of the year?
Other photographs from the exhibit can viewed on the gallery. Unfortunately, the text on the gallery page appears only in Hebrew, but if you’re interested in a particular image, you can copy and paste the captions into Google Translate in order to get a sense of the background on the photo, its date and location.
The winning photograph above was far from the only image dealing with the Haredi world. The others included the photograph below (again, see it here on a larger screen) by Oren Ben Hakoon showing Purim celebrations in Mea She'arim before seudah (the holiday feast).
Local Testimony makes no attempt to shy away from politics. In just three words, the sign at the entrance described what Local Testimony 2022 would soon reveal: “explosive Israeli reality.”
You could have stopped reading there. Those three words told you almost everything you needed to know. But if you kept reading you would’ve seen the words: “fifth election,” “Otzma Yehudit,” “Bedouin society,” “tension,” “Jenin,” “terror attacks,” “Operation Breaking Dawn,” and more.
One of the more gripping photos (below) is of the violent confrontation between Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s mourners and security forces as she was being brought to burial. (This one really needs to be viewed on the website, so you can see the detail.)
Her funeral was one of the largest Palestinian funerals since that of Yasser Arafat.
Alongside the Local Testimony space is another, similar exhibit called World Press Photo, an international photography exhibition. Here, too, the political trend continued.
Though many of the photos in this section were also arresting, what garnered much of the attention was a map produced by Reporters Without Borders called the 2022 Press Freedom Index. The map showed levels of press freedom for journalists and media around the world. There are five levels: good (green); satisfactory (yellow); problematic (light orange); difficult (dark orange); and very serious (dark red).
Israel’s color was light orange. As we stood in front of the map, two high-school-aged boys approached the map (the exhibit attracts organized trips of high schools from the whole country). The two boys immediately looked at Israel; one got angry.
“There’s no way Israel should be light orange.” His friend asked him what color he thought Israel should get; without missing a beat, the first boy replied, “green.” The highest level, good. (Only 8 countries mostly Scandinavian countries, received this score). The other boy agreed and took the case a step further, saying no other country has to contend with the types of threats and challenges that Israel faces. They both concluded that light orange was most definitely not Israel’s color. The map, they were certain, was unfair.
It was a hopeful moment, I thought. To hear two kids so confidently claim that Israel deserves a “good” score reflected a certain naive innocence, of course, but also a love of their country that was heart-warming. You couldn’t help but wonder—what would they think as they grow older, as they become more worldly?
Local Testimony runs each year usually beginning in December and running until February. If you happen to be in Israel then, make a point of visiting. It’s an emotionally complex experience; it is, in that sense, classically Israeli.
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