Two modes of political engagement in contemporary Israeli art photography

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Ranging from photojournalism to landscape photography from the late 1980s to the present, this article studies the ways in which Israeli still art photography has engaged politically with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following historical contextualization of the emergence of critical engagement in the late 1980s and the iconography of the conflict during the first Intifada, and after introducing notions from the sociology of critique, the article uses distinctions made by art photographers in classifying themselves and their peers and identifies two contrasting poles that mark the extremities of the field. Based on the understanding of the distinctness of photography as a medium with regard to the ways the photographer draws on signs from reality, the article characterizes the two modes of engagement as “indirect” or “direct.” The indirect mode is metaphorical, evading the easily identifiable iconography of the conflict; the direct mode focuses on its already visually fixed expressions in order to place its image before the eyes of viewers. The article then illustrates both modes with photographers who consistently pursue either a direct or an indirect mode of engagement and argues for a close relationship between each of the two modes and a distinct conception of politically engaged photographic critique. The article argues that the two modes differ both in terms of their conception of photography and with regard to their conception of politics and political education. Without ignoring ambivalence, which is built into the medium of photography, or the ambiguities built into any attempt of classification, the aim of the article, ultimately, is to bring to the surface the contrasting foundations of the two modes and the methods of engagement to which they are tied.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)85-108
Number of pages24
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History


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