Photographer from Israel on the wound of the Holocaust as his personal, national and global history and a basis for the existence of the nation
My story begins in June 1942, on the day when 21 year old Pavel Friedman wrote a poem called “The Butterfly” in the Theresienstadt ghetto. A line from that poem caught my attention and remained engraved onto my memories: “… But I haven’t seen a butterfly here“. This line has become an integral part of my journey. Over sixty years later I’ve found myself digging deep into the wound of the Holocaust. I’m exploring my own family’s history and the influence of this major piece in human history on the nation I come from and on all of humanity.
Through my camera lens I test the surface, shreds of reality, the constant tension between past and present. The very charged past that we try so hard to repress is the basis for our existence as a nation; an absurd reality filled with national, political, social and economical struggles. A constant struggle with the past that overshadows the present and the future and turns our everyday lives into a battle for survival.
In my work I ignore the well familiar images of the Holocaust – the piles of clothes, shoes, eyeglasses and hair that have become a touristic pilgrimage location. I aim to create new association system to activate a personal emotional charge – both mine and the viewers’. I photograph unsuspected buildings and scenery details that in fact encapsulate the essence of the death and the horrors. These memories of the Holocaust, exile and uncertainty are the foundations of “Israelism” but in my work I address a suffering humanity and not only an Israeli-Jewish recollection.
Throughout the work I’ve made sure to neutralize every characteristic of a specific geographical location since time and place are irrelevant to the meaning of the images. In my travels around the world I repeatedly reconnect to the same place Pavel wrote his poem in. Pavels’ “here” has always been a “there” for me but nevertheless I realize again and again that no matter where and when I’m found, the same feeling lives within me: that feeling of absence of a man seeking with his last breath a proof of a non-extinct beauty.
This is my travel diary, as a person hiding behind a camera and picking his wounds and his national and personal history. It is also the journey of an entire generation to find the ability to cope with the trauma that brought us here and a way to create an identity in its’ shadow.
© Bleek Magazine. Text and all images: Yaniv Waissa.