Pictures don’t say “anything,” they say “nothing” and certainly not “everything” as much as they show us “something.” I wanted to share this photograph gallery from the progressive Israeli website +972. They were created and distributed by Activestills, “a collective of Israeli, Palestinian, and international photographers, united by a conviction that photography is a vehicle for political and social change.” These are powerful photographs that demand our attention. But do they “speak for themselves,” as per Activestills? For anyone who has thought for even a minute at all about pictures and photography, I don’t know what to do with this kind of a statement, except to try to parse it out, first morally-charitably and then politically-critically.
On the one hand, the photograph is transparent, the human face shown clearly. And yes, “we” can safely say that the Palestinians living in Gaza, and also in the West Bank, suffer, and that they suffer “more” than Israelis. This transparent aspect of these photographs reflect a simple truth that has nothing to do with Zionism or anti-Zionism. In Gaza, they are now suffering something terrible. That much we know for sure. In the picture, this suffering is present at hand. These pictures show us something about the human face, brute facts of raw suffering. But this “revelation” yields no critical or political knowledge. It’s purely human. They tell us next to nothing, which is an awful something.
On the other hand, these photographs, like all photographs, are opaque. For someone like myself, not persuaded that Israel, not even this rightwing government, simply attacks a civilian population unprovoked, these pictures do not simply speak for themselves. This hidden aspect of the photograph has everything to do with Zionism and anti-Zionism, with ideology and political calculations. Is “resistance” to Israel worth the price of waging conflict with Israel? What happened before and what happens next? These are inhuman questions, cruel and indecent.
Who’s going to budge and bend, what needs to happen from both sides of the political fence so this does not happen again? What needs to happen, first from the Israeli and then from the Palestinians, or first from the Palestinians and then from the Israelis, or all at once at the same time, or maybe from some other place, American or Egyptian? It almost doesn’t matter from where, only that “something happen.” Otherwise, it’s just going to be another batch of photographs, sooner or later.