PALESTINE IN PORTRAITS

Opening Reception: Wednesday February 8, 2017 6:00pm-7:00pm UC San Diego Cross-Cultural Center, Art Space

Photos by Gary Fields

The photographs in this exhibit take inspiration from one of the most celebrated genres in the photographic arts – portraiture.  Classic portraiture typically requires deep engagement with the individual subject. At the same time, I have taken some liberty with this tradition, combining it with what is often described as photo journalism. While some of the individuals in these photos I have come to know well, others are less known to me and in a few cases, the photos depict individuals who I don’t know but whose gaze, hands, or body movements beckoned to me in a compelling way.  “Photographs furnish evidence and tell stories,” the cultural critic, Susan Sontag observed in her now classic work, On Photography (1973).   I have used the storied tradition of portraiture alongside photo journalism in an effort to render Palestinians visible in ways seldom seen, and to give voice to their life stories that are too often silenced, ignored and forgotten. 

This year, 2017 marks two tragic milestones in Palestine’s recent, troubled history.  It is the 50th year of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the longest running military occupation in modern history.  Similarly, 2017 represents the 10th year of the Israeli blockade of Gaza where two million people are effectively isolated in what is often described as the world’s largest outdoor prison.  Although these conditions have made life exceedingly difficult for Palestinians, I have witnessed countless ways in which this group of people has resisted their fate not only by direct protest but by planting crops, rebuilding homes, attending school, and honoring the fallen.  ‘Sumud’ is an oft-used word in Arabic meaning “steadfastness” and is perhaps the best way of describing the spirit of survival among a group of people confronted by the troubled landscapes of this fraught history.  I have tried to capture this spirit of steadfastness in the faces of the individuals in these photos marked by a sense of inner turmoil alongside a stoic and even heroic dignity

Along with being resilient, the Palestinians are a generous people willing to share anything they have with guests such as myself who visit them and are interested in telling their story.  As I was walking through the small hamlet of Zeina in the Gaza Strip in 2015, I met a gentlemen of 45 years old, Mr. Abu J. living in a tent whose house had been destroyed the year before during the Israeli bombing of Gaza known as Operation Protective Edge.  He greeted me, but asked me to wait at the entrance to his tent momentarily as he went back inside.  He returned promptly wearing a long-sleeve striped shirt that seemed as if it was just been cleaned and pressed at a dry cleaner.  Mr. Abu J. told me that he was honored that I had come to Zeina and offered me bottled water and some fresh dates, apologizing that it was all he had.  I somehow suspected that he put on the shirt for my benefit.  After he showed me around and described what had happened to him and his neighbors, I sensed both a deep sadness and a will to continue.  This was Palestinian life. 

Gary Fields is a professor in the Department of Communication at UCSD and would like to thank the UCSD Cross-Cultural Center for organizing this exhibit.

Black and White image "Strawberries" (2012)

Black and white photo of school children "Home from School" (2012)

Black and white photo of individual walking into the wind "Sheik" (2014)

Black and white photo of two children "All that Remains" (2014)

Black and White photo of Iraq Burin "Hardened" (2012)

Black and white photo of Michael Sumud Khan Yunis "Sumud" (2012)

Black and white photo of Mona "Sowing the Bean Crop" (2010)

Black and White photo of PMRS girl"Doctor's Visit" (2015)

Black and White photo of Bedouin Women "Paying Respects" (2015)

Black and white photo of ADJ Zeina "Starched Shirt" (2015)

Black and White photo Adj Tulkarem "Molokhia" (2014)

Deir Istya "Bread Making" (2015)