The conclusion of my attempt to explicate what I attempt to do photographically.
A BRIEF EARLY HISTORY
I began when my father gave me a camera, probably a cheap Kodak Brownie, at the age of 7.
Frank Schiel, 1964 c, my father, photo by Skip Schiel
Caldwell School playground, Chicago’s Southside, 1950 c.,
photo by Skip Schiel
I lost a good Kodak foldout camera at a train station in Michigan while waiting to return from Boy Scout camp when about 12 years old.
Pearl Schiel, 1954, my mother, photo by Skip Schiel
When I was in high school my father brought out his old high school chemistry notes and perhaps accidentally turned to the section on photographic chemistry. I was immediately entranced and about 5 years later while in college I built my first darkroom in the basement kitchen of the rooming house I shared with other men in Seattle, Washington. They were not happy with the odors.
I hitchhiked around the Midwest during college breaks in the early 1960s to make slide shows and show them to family and neighbors, most of whom fell asleep.
Self portrait by Skip Schiel, 1960
Iowa Farm, 1962, photo by Skip Schiel
The Great Plains, 1962 c, believed by many to be too boring to photograph, photo by Skip Schiel
Partly because of the rotten reception to my slide shows I tried to burn most of my early slides in our basement fireplace, my mother stopped me. I have no idea where those slides are now and do not care.
At some point early in my life I learned that my grandfather Ben Schiel had long ago opened a photographic portrait studio in Dubuque, Iowa. It probably quickly failed as did most of his other enterprises.
Ben Schiel in front of his Palace Photographic Studio, Dubuque, Iowa, 1910
I am reassured that I might be on a good path by the fact that the Schiel family consists of at least four generations of photographers—my grandfather Ben, my father Frank (a dedicated but talentless amateur), me, and my daughter Joey, full of talent. Who knows, perhaps the illustrious Austrian artist, Egon Schiele, is part of my family lineage. And what will become of my grandchildren, Rex, Cid, and Eleanor?
VALUES I TRY TO EMBODY AND PORTRAY
End suffering and foster enlightenment, traditional Buddhist values.
Do this with my camera, thru participation in struggles for environmental integrity and justice—Charles River, Boston Harbor, and Quabbin Reservoir in 1980s; American Indians begun in 1982; Bread and Puppet Theater, begun in the early 1980s and sporadically continuing; South Africa in 1990 and 1998; working with the Struggles Against Racism photographers’ collective in 1990s; Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage in 1995; Middle Passage Pilgrimage in 1998; and my 3 current projects, Israel-Palestine beginning in 2003, Detroit which began in 2010, and my new Twilight series, a departure from my politically based work: I explore light, that narrow slice of the 24 hour diurnal cycle known otherwise as the Magic Hour.
I call myself a participatory, socially engaged photographer which means I participate in actions striving for justice and then photographically observe and interpret the actions about human rights. I also show conditions which lead to these actions and provide context.
Skip Schiel in the Dheisheh refugee camp, Bethlehem, 2003, photo by Mark Daoud
I take some risks: I am willing to suffer for the truth. As W. Eugene Smith declared, “I have tried to let truth be my prejudice.”
Demonstration outside Ofer prison for prisoners’ rights, West Bank, Palestine, 2012
If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.
My Israel-Palestine photo series is at times controversial. As when a few people at my Quaker meeting walked out of my first slide show, Facts on the Ground, but we’ve reconciled—or are reconciling.
An upcoming lecture of [Schiel’s at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education] is entitled: The Hydropolitics of Israel and Palestine. What photography course would be complete without a little “evil Israelis are dehydrating the innocent Palestinians”-style propaganda? The lecture is overpriced at $2.
…Schiel has many fine photos as well as a gallery. You must understand what a sad joke this is. Foreigners visit, put themselves under the command of local Arab leaders and involve themselves in provoking and providing cover for those who provoke the Israeli soldiers — soldiers who are far more disciplined than to treat them as they probably deserve.
During my last slide show at Friends Meeting at Cambridge in 2012, Eyewitness Gaza, the pro-Israel organization, Stand with Us, and Kerry Hurwitz picketed outside and later tracked me to Chicago. Writing a letter about me to local Jewish leaders, they may have blocked a high school visit organized by the American Friends Service Committee in 2011. On that same tour, showing at a mosque, someone misread my slide show and angrily shut me down—he thought I was pro-Israel.
In 2011, Tom Jackson, with significant help from Adham Khalil in Gaza, made a film about Gaza and me, Eyewitness Gaza, how I work there and why. I feel it accurately portrays my work in that region and of that style, politically informed and intended. Later with much help from Maria Termini, I published a book of my photos with the same title, Eyewitness Gaza.
Eyewitness Gaza (the movie)
A three minute preview
A ten minute preview of Eyewitness Gaza (made early in the editing process)
The full movie, fifty minutes long
An interview with me by Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine
Eyewitness Gaza (the book)
Aside from the message or content, this is my method: experiment; draw from traditions represented by W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange, Sabastio Selgado, Magnum photographers, and many others in my lineage; intend to surprise, entertain, and teach. Bathe the audience in beauty, a beauty that treads the thin line between horror and beauty. As Dostoevsky stated in The Idiot—Beauty will save the world.
… it has been publicly [implied] that I am anti-Semitic because of a cartoon I created expressing sad dismay at the plight and suffering of the Palestinians in the recent bombardment of Gaza [November 2012].
As a cartoonist I am not interested in defending the dominant, the powerful, the well-resourced and the well-armed because such groups are usually not in need of advocacy, moral support or sympathetic understanding; they have already organised sufficient publicity for themselves and prosecute their points of view with great efficiency.
The work of the artist is to express what is repressed or even to speak the unspoken grief of society. And the cartoonist’s task is not so much to be balanced as to give balance, particularly in situations of disproportionate power relationships such as we see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a healthy tradition dating back to the court jester and beyond: to be the dissenting protesting voice that speaks when others cannot or will not.
—Michael Leunig, “Just a cartoonist with a moral duty to speak”.