Pasternak, Gil (2012) Jewish Soldiers of the Time: Ethos, Pathos and Logos in Rineke Dijkstra’s “Israel Portraits”. In: Insight Palestina Images, Discourses, and the Image of Discourse, 7 June 2012, University of Leeds. (Unpublished)

In 1999 the Herzliya Museum of Art in Israel invited Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra to create a photographic series on Israeli subjects. Dijkstra began working on what was to become Israel Portraits; a body of images that depict Israeli soldiers in military camps and off-duty, at home. To date this is her only series directly informed and dictated by state politics. She visually delineates the subjects’ social position imposed upon them through the sovereign power of the Israeli State. As a result, the photographs position viewers in relation to topical issues associated with precarious national tensions characterised in the region at least since 1948. Connoting the Israeli State and its perceived militant disposition, they also confront the viewer with specific faces whose alleged social role is to defend the Israelis and their territorial land against the Arabs and, more specifically, against the Palestinians.

This paper looks at how the series depicts these faces in line with the cynical representational gaze of the New Objectivity tradition associated with August Sander and his 1929 photo- portrait book Face of the Time (Antlitz der Zeit). However, it also explores how Dijkstra equally looks for a temporary loss of the subject’s aspiration to manage their own representational anxiety. As a form of visual historiography, Israel Portraits undoes and renegotiates the iconic model of Israeli soldiery. In challenging the imaginary formation of the heroic Israeli combatant with images of personal and physical vulnerability, mental and emotional insecurity, Dijkstra opens up a representational space which permits historically repressed images of the Diasporic Jew to reappear. This representational reincarnation of the ‘helpless’ Jew within Israeli visual culture thus calls for a more rigorous investigative social proposition. It complicates national and political dogmas, and bridges by means of visual identification, the perceptual abyss between ‘ordinary’ Israelis and Palestinians. This photographic strategy, I argue, allows for the development of a political consciousness that bypasses common ideology and narratives of the Palestine-Israel struggle.

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