AbdelFattah Abu-Srour, director of the Center and the theater
Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles
June 26, 2009, Friday, Al Rowwad, Aida refuge camp, Bethlehem:
Writing from the Al Rowwad Cultural and Theater Center, not with my usual ease and fluency because of the unfamiliar computers here, and the slow Internet connection, but I try.
Getting to Bethlehem from Ramallah is not easy: the death defying service (pronounced serveece) shared taxi one hour plus ride is terrifying. Up and down monster hills, around convoluting corners, passing trucks and other slow moving vehicles, overheated smelly brakes, screeching tires as we ascend around curves, no leg room, stuffed taxi, driver using his mobile phone while driving one handed…I’d rather walk.
But I arrived, found a taxi, negotiated a fee (told it would be 10 NIS, the first driver wanted 30, second 15, but he was so kind in dropping me at the exact spot I needed I tipped him 5 possibly setting off higher expectations that might boomerang on foreigners, I also recorded his name and number for later use), and arrived to be greeted by Abed, the director of the center in the Aida refugee camp. This is the second largest of 3 camps in Bethlehem, in the northern section of the city, up against the Apartheid Wall and near Rachel’s tomb. I recall that I can distinguish a camp from its surroundings by the plethora of buildings rising up rather than spreading out. Restricted space dictates much of the architecture.
After meeting others, including Chris from Germany, a volunteer or intern who is teaching one of the 2 photo sections, we headed out with 3 of about 5 students that showed up for the 2 hour long session. I quickly discovered that I might be of more service by linking with the students and myself photographing as they wander thru the camp than by actually doing much teaching. I coached Chris, who admitted he knows little about the finer points of photography—how to produce photos that mean—and solicited my support for this task. Not that I’m an expert on this topic, but I earn a small living in part by professing to teach it—a form of sophistry.
I suggested one of my favorite introductory homework assignments: photograph one of your intimate spaces, concentrating on light. At my urging we did not end the session with the camera work only but continued by downloading and beginning the editing process. Tomorrow, inshallah, students will arrive with a folder of edited processed photos to show the group.
In looking over recent photos by one of the students, seeing one of Chris and me that resembled solarization, I asked if the maker knew how to produce this effect with Photoshop. He didn’t, which launched a brief improvised lesson in how to select and operate on the selection to produce the effect. This served not only to impart info and test their prior knowledge but to help establish my credential as a competent photographer.
I’d noticed while on the field trip that some soon tired, and seemed to have lost the incentive to do much more. I commiserated with Chris about this paucity of motivation which he feels is a common problem. I rocketed ahead, to the point of climbing a rickety wooden ladder to photograph some workers laying concrete blocks to expand a dwelling. I invited my colleagues to join me, none did. I thought I would easily surpass in quality what they were making. However, back in the lab, briefly looking at some of their photos as they downloaded, I found I was mistaken: many were very good.
I must admit that a highlight of the day for me was finding an older message from X that I might have seen but had forgotten. She wrote on June 19, 8 days earlier,
I’ve just read all your posts since you arrived.
You write so wonderfully! Thank you thank you thank you for sharing it all – your encounters, impressions, thoughts, wonderment, etc. I am learning, and gaining new eyes….
And then ended with this quote, which I currently use as my footer:
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust
This nourished me considerably. I miss our once fairly frequent communication, and wonder how she is, whether in transit to South America, hiking thru Peru, packing hurriedly.
your proust quote is perfect for me at this very moment: working with high school age photo students in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. their assignment is to show beauty in their immediate neighborhood, and some today seemed unable to see beyond the usual. whereas for me everything is new and fresh. yet when i return home i will face what they face: the quotidian. and then the task becomes how to see beyond the obvious with new eyes.
i suspect when you are in your new region of south america you will see everything automatically with new eyes. how delicious that can be yet some sites like machu pichu have been photographed by many travelers and many of the photos look the same. why?
good luck with your new phase of life (you might be leaving this weekend?), may you see with the freshest of eyes, as if an infant,
—Skip (in Bethlehem, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)
Rehearsing “Blame the Wolf, a play-dance that tours the United States in summer 2009
There is much to write about this first day. I’ve written notes in my notebook and may save fuller writing for later.
Today: download my photos from yesterday, and edit. Later walk to main Bethlehem for a fuller exploration. Hope to weather the heat.