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The Annotated Artwork

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This colossal photograph by Barry Frydlender, a Tel Aviv artist, looks journalistic, but it’s anything but. Frydlender makes his images out of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of individual photos, and this one was assembled after a day in August 2005 when he accompanied reporters to the “disengagement” of the Gaza Strip settlement Shirat Hayam. It was a media moment completely stage-managed, he says, by the Israeli government (later on, Shirat Hayam’s residents were removed by force), and the artifice of the event inspired this even more artificial representation, which records not one moment but blends many. New York asked him to talk about the complexity of this tableau, which you can see in his MoMA survey “Place and Time” through September 3.

1. The Witness
The only person facing the camera directly “is wearing tefillin. He was a traveling guitar player. I saw him singing in the morning. He’s looking at me because he asked me to send him a photograph of him.” Did Frydlender send it? “No. He was very nice, though.”

2. The Media
“The red hats identify the media. It’s easy to see who they are and how they act. I got a red hat, too. But it was stolen by one of the settlers before everything started.”

3. The Soldiers
“Some of the uniforms have English letters, like POLICE and ISRAEL, on the backs. Nobody in the Israeli army has English on their uniform. It was all tailor-made for the event. Everything was orchestrated, like watching the Batsheva Dance Company.”

4. The Unclaimed Package
“People don’t seem to notice—in front of the small building, on the sand, there’s something. It appears again on the corner of the building. I think it’s a sleeping bag, or some personal stuff that one of the photographers left. How many people are there, and nobody says, What is it?

5. The Handshake
“These are two army units—you can see different hats, one orange, one black. See the way they shake hands and don’t look at each other? It’s a really small sign of the inner politics within the army. It shows tension.”

6. The Settlers
“Some of the settlers are repeated. The whole image is color-coded. The settlers are in orange,” the color of the anti-withdrawal movement. “The whole situation, the Israelis with their backs to the sea, surrounded by an army—it could be any army.” The photo op “turned out to be an image of the worst possible situation.”

7. The Signs
“The sign saying LAMA? (Why?) was put up by the settlers in order to be photographed. The sign on the building says I FIGHT ON YOUR SIDE FOR MANY GENERATIONS. They were there to appeal to the soldiers: ‘Why do you move me out of my house?’ ”

8. The Viewpoint
“I made this out of about 50 images taken over the span of an hour from the top of a watchtower. We were there for three days—the second day, the army left the watchtower and we took over.”

The Process
“It took two months on the computer to complete. The credibility of the image as witness is damaged. What we’re calling a photograph is not a photograph. I didn’t take the picture— I constructed it.”


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