Along the Mediterranean Coast: To learn photography

Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.

PHOTOS

Have you ever heard of the hour of the wolf? … It’s the time between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning. You can’t sleep, and all you can see is the troubles and the problems and the ways that your life should’ve gone but didn’t. All you can hear is the sound of your own heart.

(Commander Susan Ivanova in an episode of the science fiction television show Babylon 5 entitled “The Hour of the Wolf” and from Swedish and Finnish folk religion, also the title of a horror film by Ingmar Bergman where I first learned the term and phenomenon.)


(Click here for an enlargement)

November 23, 2010, Tuesday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

I’m nervous this morning, for a variety of reasons. 1. I teach the first session of the photographic workshop tomorrow [November 24, 2010]. Altho I feel very prepared and confident enough I always feel nervous beginning a workshop series. I focus more on past failures than successes, on my problems at Birzeit University and with the Haifa Israeli Arab youth when I taught at both sites, rather than the long string of successes at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program (QPYP), Cambridge Center for Adult Education and Harvard University. 2. My computer problems. 3. My flashlight’s bulb seems to have burned out, not a big deal but precipitating a return of my Hour of the Wolf syndrome, keeping me awake with flooding thoughts, visions, worries. 4. Where in Gaza can I find an ATM for cash? 5. The money transfer question. All of these swamped me last night as I struggled to return to blissful sleep—and eventually did.

I am befuddled by the weekly schedule here. Week begins on Sunday, Friday is a holiday. I have to shift my thinking from Monday begins the week, Saturday and Sunday are holidays.

A dream despite or inspired by the problems of the night: true to my habit (and I’m thankful for this one) I was preparing to teach a photo workshop, not in Gaza but at home. Working around my wife, a stand-in for my former wife, I gathered materials including an old digital camera that I’d dismantled, blank film, cords, and other paraphernalia that if I were actually home and about to teach I’d collect. A bulb had burned out. My wife provided me one. I inserted it and I could see better what I was collecting. Last night I devoted myself mainly to preparing for the workshop tomorrow and I’m certain the dream was an offshoot of that. Unlike at home, I don’t have the materials I dreamt about gathering.

The second dream was about gathering a woman to me—another sort of gathering—inviting her into my intimate circle. She was young, desirable, available. I’d arranged for her to sit with others in a sort of pit. The pit began enclosing her and others. I jumped in. Some in the pit became food. She finally agreed to be with me intimately. I felt mutual love. Patricia Watson, an old dear Quaker friend and mentor, entered the story somehow; maybe it referred to her without her actual presence. How strange this one was. Unlike any dream I can recall having and definitely unlike any known courtship procedure.

November 24, 2010, Wednesday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

What provoked last night’s episode of the Hour of the Wolf was the following extremely vivid dream: I was meeting my workshop group for the first time. It was set in Gaza, large, around 15, the usual mix of people. For some reason a pole or column separated them into 2 smaller groups, which made seeing them at one time difficult. One of the students rudely and demonstratively played the piano loudly in the back of the room. I asked her to stop. Sullenly, she complied.

I was using my seminar approach, asking questions in the Socratic manner, mostly about photographic design. As an illustration I used  the element of repetition. I didn’t have actual pictures to look at, a major omission. At first I thought this was going very well, not plunging directly into the nuts and bolts of making photos but delving into some of the deeper topics—I love doing this. I felt I was doing it expertly. Gradually I noticed some of the students shaking heads at each other, a condemnatory shake, expressing, this sucks. This guy is a total shit. I do not like being in this workshop. I knew I was on the wrong path, not sure how to find the right one. I awoke with a sudden thud. Oh, oh, I said to myself, don’t take that road today when you teach, anything but that road.

On my morning walk a few minutes ago I realized I should begin the workshop by thanking everyone for the opportunity to work with them, for their choosing to enroll, do the work, and share my passion for photography, to give me a chance to learn from them. Yes, be very thankful and humble. To confess my gratitude, dependence on them, willingness to learn. Then to ask them to introduce themselves, with specific reference to photography. Tell us what you’d like to learn and why. The take away, the payoff. This will be challenging because of language barriers. (I’m hoping for good translation, which I had last year, making a huge difference.) Then maybe look at their photos, if they brought them as I asked Islam to invite them to do. At least look at my prints.

Then maybe a how to see deeply exercise, a guided meditation, and run thru the camera settings (how do this without the AV camera cable?). Concentrate on providing them many opportunities to actually photograph and later review their photos. To state this at the outset: make and comment on photos, the spine of the workshop. That usually works in most settings.

The QPYP staff were surprised to see me show up so early yesterday, ready to teach. Then I realized my mistake—I was one day early, one more night to suffer thru, the Hour of the Wolf will come again. I confided to Amal, the director of the program, how nervous I am. She is my mother in absentia. The moon, recently full, is waning. On the next full moon night I may either be preparing to leave Gaza or preparing to leave Yaffa and Israel, homeward bound.

Ibrahem Shatali and Amal Sabawai, program officer and director, respectively

November 25, 2010, Thursday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

~~Electricity just went kaput as I was beginning this entry. Last night in an adjoining neighborhood near the sea, the power was out. Off at 7:20 pm, we’ll see how long before the generator kicks in.~~

The workshop yesterday, in my preliminary and self-interested perspective, went surprisingly well. 10 of the 12 enrolled attended, about half arrived on time, the others within 10 minutes of start time. They seemed engaged for the most part, those without English struggling to keep up. Rana and Hesham shared translation duties. All but one had cameras and that one used his mobile phone camera which apparently is fairly sophisticated. I lectured about a few basic digital principles like the difference between a photograph, a print, a file, and an image. For a later session we’ll discuss bits, bytes, and pix, color space, calibration, etc, rudimentary concepts that I find fascinating and vital to understand. Will they?

Because I lacked my AV cable allowing me to show camera settings, I lectured on the topic and had them follow with their cameras: auto, P for program, A for aperture priority, etc, leaving for later when and why these different settings are useful. All basic stuff. The students are less advanced than I’d assumed after talking with Amal and Islam. I thought they said these would mostly be practicing photographers who wished to upgrade their skills. Not so—some entry level, a few more advanced.

I’d laid out prints I brought of family and the coast, had them observe, comment on what they noticed, discuss how to improve certain photos, much like what I do at home. (No one else brought photos, even tho I’d requested it.) I also showed the slide show of photos from last year’s photo workshop, Starting Point, commending the photos and hoping to raise a standard. So that—and I tried to lay this out provisionally, not a promise or commitment—that if their photos are good enough we can have an exhibition at the Windows from Gaza gallery.

Maybe the hit of the 3-hour session was actually making photos, first in the room we worked in, and then the roof where I’d been several times with other groups. [A sampling of student photos from the entire workshop is at the end of this blog.] On the roof I challenged them to effectively show a vista and to make use of the high roof position. I’m saving my schema for making a good photo—be aware, observe the light, choose a camera position and shutter release moment, etc—for later. Returning down the stairs, I pointed out the viewpoint someone previously had discovered for making an abstract photo: straight down the stairwell. They all tried it, I photographed them trying it.

~~7:30, power returned a mere 10 minutes later, thanks to a local generator I’m certain. Last year the generator was nearly outside my door, loud and smelly, small also. It remains but is not used. I have no idea where the working generator is, probably on the rooftop. I’ve never heard or seen it. [Later I learned the building’s owner has tied into another neighborhood’s power lines so that when that neighborhood has electricity our building is powered.]~~

I introduced myself, very personally—grandpa, divorced, love Gaza, photographing since my dad gave me my first camera at age 7, etc—and they did the same. They are young, perhaps between about 18 and 25, most are college students, a few in business administration, a few in media. Some work for partner agencies. Hesham works with the guy I’ll probably hire as cameraman, Yousef.

So I’m relieved, greatly relieved. From time to time during the session, silently I compared the nightmare vision I’d had the 2 nights before to what was transpiring in front of me: night and day, night and day. I slept very well last night.

At times I’m frightened by the situation here. I read reports from the Gaza NGO Safety Office, GANSO, such as:

At approximately 1550 hrs on 7 October 2010, an IAF [Israeli Air Force]  drone fired a missile targeting a private vehicle carrying Palestinian militants affiliated to Al Nasser Salah Ad Din Brigades on Al Mughraqa Bridge, between Al Nuseirat and Al Zahra, North West of Al Nuseirat. However, the missile failed to hit its intended target, and instead exploded in front of a passing vehicle, injuring 5 civilian passengers, and 1 seriously. Similarly, at 1130 hrs on 3 November 2010, a private vehicle was targeted by the IAF in the vicinity of the de facto security services headquarters in Gaza City, N of Al Azhar University, killing an Army of Islam operative driving the vehicle, with injuries sustained by a passerby. And just last week (17 November) at 1640 hrs, a private vehicle was again targeted by the IAF on Al Wihda Street in Gaza City, resulting in the deaths of 2 Army of Islam operatives.

The central concern with respect to these attacks is that they occurred during daylight hours and, most particularly with respect to the two most recent incidents, in built up areas. In the previous Bi-Weekly Safety Report (17 – 30 October) GANSO highlighted the danger of internal hazards and their unpredictability. Much of the advice imparted on that occasion can also apply in this context, though tempered perhaps by an even greater degree of unpredictability. At this juncture, the most effective mitigation measure that GANSO can suggest is that NGO’s clearly mark their vehicles (particularly from an aerial perspective) when travelling throughout the Gaza Strip, while organisations are also strongly encouraged to keep a First Aid Kit and fire extinguisher within their vehicles at all times (and ensure staff are aware of how to safely and effectively use the equipment).

This bothers me—first aid kit and fire extinguisher, big help, forget it! Reminds me that if I happen to be out walking or with someone driving, at exactly the wrong moment and place, I could be hit, hurt, killed. Damned luck. I’m not sure my muses can do much about this. I’m not sure how cognizant they are about either the Israeli military or the Palestinian militants. The OP’s, Palestinian Operatives, to use the language of GANSO.

From Prof. Abdelwahed, published July 18, 2009:

“Gaza war in child’s memory (True story),”

Raid Fattouh is a Palestinian. He is married to Natasha, a Ukrainian woman. They live in Gaza with their four children: Karma 13, Jabr 10, Diana 6 and Hakeem 1. Two weeks ago, Raid and his Natasha wanted to travel to Ukraine after 13 years stay in Gaza. It was so hard for the parents to convince their children that traveling by airplane is comfortable and safe! Children could not sleep well for long nights before their land trip to Amman. They were scared of the airplane! Their persistent question was on their situation if the airplane bombed somewhere and killed innocent people like what it did in Gaza during the war! The image of the airplane was an image of a machine to kill the people in the streets and at homes! It was enormously difficult for the parents to convince the kids to step up into the airplane at Amman airport. The nightmare remained, and children were really horrified; they cried until they were on board. Their father told me that the most pathetic moments where those when kids were going upstairs the airplane! Once they were in they believed their parents.

—Prof. Abdelwahed, Department of English, Faculty of Arts & Humanities,Al-Azhar University of Gaza, Gaza is phoenix in burning flame

TO BE CONTINUED

STUDENT PHOTOS (click photo for enlargement):

Photos by Samah Ahmad

Photos by Rana Baker

       

Photos by Omar Shala

     

Photos by Meslah Ashram


Photos by Lina Abd Latif

      

Photos by Khaled El Rayyes

     

Photos by Hesham Mhanna

        

Photos by Abd Nassla

LINKS

Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

My photo workshops in the United States

My teaching philosophy

2 thoughts on “Along the Mediterranean Coast: To learn photography

  1. thanks so much for sharing your work and that of the folks you were working with. the photos and the accompanying text brought to life the beauty, power, struggle and resistance of the Palestinian people.

    Like

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