Pasternak, Gil (2011) Playing Soldiers: Posing Militarism in the Domestic Sphere. In: Visual Conflicts: On the Formation of Political Memory in the History of Art and Visual Cultures. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle Upon Tyne, pp. 139-168. ISBN 9781443831727
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In “Playing Soldiers: Posing Militarism in the Domestic Sphere”, Pasternak explores the political life of family photographs and the social rituals attending the practice of family photography in an attempt to broaden and politicise scholarly literature on this subject. Focusing on Israeli society, Pasternak’s contribution delves into the micro-politics of family photography practiced specifically by Jewish-Israelis in the context of the Arab-Zionist conflict that developed after the formal establishment of the Israeli state in 1948.
Pasternak presents an unconventional approach to family photography by addressing images selected from collections belong to his own family. This approach epitomises his desire to develop a conceptual framework distinct from conventional art historical approaches. Pasternak argues for the need to study the photographic apparatus beyond the traditional parameters of dominant social taxonomies and their prescribed significances. In doing so, he questions the common understanding of the family photograph as apolitical.
Pasternak’s contribution examines portraits of members of his family imaged while serving in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Whereas there is nothing unusual in producing and accumulating family photographs of soldiers, it is a practice, he argues, that reveals the lack of clear boundaries between the state, society, and the nuclear family. In a country such as Israel, where militarism and violent political conflict are part and parcel of the everyday, posing militarism in the domestic sphere appears as necessary. Pasternak introduces sociological and anthropological perspectives on Israeli attitudes to the army and military service in order to enable readers to fully apprehend the values and visions the IDF symbolises in the eyes of the vast majority of Jewish-Israelis. Since the IDF is the one organisation endorsed by both Jewish-Israeli society and the state, he argues that portraits showing members of the family in military uniform operate as declarations of social assimilation and approval. However, while he demonstrates how such family photographs assist in perpetuating and solidifying Israeli social norms, including positive attitudes towards the Israeli army, he also shows how the protocols of the genre of portraiture–not least posing for the camera–can subvert the coherence of their putative message, thereby interfering with cultural constructions of martial identities tacitly endorsed by the state.
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