I just read about the Local Testimony photo awards given to the best work by Israel’s professional photographers. Daniel Bar On–whose shocking image from an Israeli nationalist rally outside the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv, which supported the IDF attack on the Mavi Marmara–won the award for best photo of the year. It’s such an amazing, dissonant and complex image that I think it requires some explication. Further, it absolutely perfectly exemplifies everything this blog is about.
The richness of this photo is in the multiple elements or layers which combine to produce a jarring, disturbing image. First, the man holding aloft a flame with his arm emblazoned with a Jewish star seems an unintentional (on the part of the man) echoing of the Shoah survivors’ number tattooed on their wrists. This is an ongoing motif from Zionist history, in which the Holocaust is invoked as a reminder that every attack on Israel is a potential genocide in the making.
Perhaps the most shocking element of the photo is the gun-toting Israeli policeman on horseback offering what appears to be a Hitlerian salute. Certainly, the officer didn’t intend this at the time. But that’s what great photographs do: they bring out the underlying meaning of a moment that might not have been evident in real-time. The uniform is what makes the officer’s stance particularly disturbing. It’s as if the State has revealed its true colors in saluting the cause of Israeli supremacism. In addition, the policeman’s face is hidden by his salute, which renders the salute especially cold and inhuman.
The juxtaposition between the policeman’s salute and the tatooed arm brings with it a jarring reference to Nazism and the Holocaust, but in the picture Israelis appear to be both Nazi and victim. It’s one helluva amazing image.
The fluttering Israeli flag seems to be aflame, which adds further drama to the image. And in the background stands a typical Tel Aviv high-rise reminding us that this is the status of the modern Israeli state in which the impulses of fascism co-exist with modern urbanism. It’s jarring to contrast the police officer’s horse with the high-rise in the background, as if we don’t know whether we’re in the modern age or some more primitive time (1933 perhaps?).