by Irith Gubi

© Varda Carmeli, from the series 'Area C שטח', Sebastia, Samaria, 2014

Hi Varda, when did you get into photography? Early memories...

VARDA CARMELI (VC): I dedicated myself to art (1991), working in the media of painting, print, installation and photography. From 2004 I focused on photography, which plays since then a dominant role in my artwork.

One of the things I find riveting in photography is the moment of discovery - the magic that is revealed when the photographs are exposed. The focusing, the adjustment, and the concentration in order to catch a different essence of the place comprise an anomaly with regard to the camera, but this is exactly what I aim to achieve.

How did your research evolve with respect to those days?

VC: My artistic research did not begin with photography but the acquaintance with this media was a journey of re-learning how to observe, of inner and outer attentiveness, through exploration of possibilities and the discovery of a new language of expression. I submerged myself in long-term projects and evolved through them.

The project 'I See Memory' was photographed during the years 2004-2015 in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, exploring the collective memory inherent in my Jewish identity. The work process was based on direct photography in the manner of receiving stimuli and sensations while attempting to relate to the elusive condition of the subconscious.

© Varda Carmeli, from the series 'I see memory', Berlin, 2006

While wandering around, I was unable to ignore those seemingly meaningless corners that induce a pause, a second look, a reflection and consequently to photograph and document. This process gave rise to life stories, associations and memory. 

© Varda Carmeli, from the series 'I see memory', Poland, 2010

Over the years the series took the shape of an eclectic collection, sometimes a little subversive and dark, comprising wayside photographs as well as photographs of anonymous places I appropriated and which became important and able to tell a story well worth remembering.

The project was compiled in a photo book 'DECAPSULATION – 'צפונות and was shown in various solo and group exhibitions. The recognition gave me confidence in my doing. I had great enthusiasm and passion for the new field I was experiencing.

Could you tel us about your educational background?

VC: I recognize myself as a self-taught photographer even though I studied at the 'Midrasha' Academy of Art and in additional educational institutions, in which I learned mainly history of art and photographic review. During my studies I began to work on projects that guided my way to the future.

The Israeli teachers, Prof. Boaz Tal and Michal Heiman opened my eyes to the wider view of concepts and guided my way to deeper understanding of photography.

What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking?

VC: We are all aware that everyone is photographing and documenting everything all over, it seems like an epidemic of our lives, but it is not difficult to see the artistic and professional difference that keeps the quality of emerging and professional photographers.

About your work now, how would you describe your personal research in general?

VC: The central part of my work in photography comprises projects over wide expanses of place and time. I concretize the conceptual framework of a project before, during, or at the end of my journey and enjoy every bit of the curiosity and surprise that comes along. One could of course define this way of photographing as taking snapshots but my work is chiefly governed by intuition and by looking ahead at the interesting places and sights that stir me.

© Varda Carmeli, Border, 2013

Area C is the largest contiguous area under full Israeli control within Judea and Samaria. Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank, is the area on the western side of the Jordan River, which was a part of Mandatory Palestine and was occupied by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1948, following the offensive of the Arab states, and was conquered therefrom by the State of Israel in the Six-Day War (1967). In the Oslo Accords the territory was divided into three categories: Area C thus joins Area A—noncontiguous enclaves supposedly under full Palestinian Authority control, and Area B— noncontiguous enclaves under Palestinian Authority civil control and Israeli military control. 

Your recent project is titled 'Area C שטח'. Tell us about...

VC: Late in the summer of 2013 I decided to familiarize myself with the everyday reality of Area C, the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria (depending on the speaker's political inclination). I travelled in sites of varying accessibility, even the most easily reachable among them undermined my sense of personal security. 

It was an intricate and multifaceted journey. I came across scenes of harsh local reality which leaves no foreseeable hope and I photographed the surrounding open space and the breathtaking, inspiring primeval landscape. I documented people and a reality of life, and I documented the land and sky. The photographs reflect the human situation which bespeaks a conflictual existence, while the scenic pictures perpetuate the fleeting moment within the imprint of time. I let the lens capture existence so that the photographic act will introduce the place, which is all so near and yet so far from the eye in everyday life, to those for whom this reality is hidden. I hope I succeeded.

© Varda Carmeli, from the series 'Area C שטח', Sebastia, Samaria, 2014

© Varda Carmeli, from the series 'Area C שטח', Sebastia, Samaria, 2014

The project was compiled in a photo book ‘Area C שטחand up to now was shown in a solo exhibition in the Makom leOmanut gallery, Tel Aviv, 2016.

Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, that influenced you in some way?

VC: There are a number of photographers who influenced my way. Among them: Josef Koudelka, whose art takes you out of time…; Christian Boltanski, with his themes around identity and memory; Hiroshi Sugimoto, whom I appreciate for his journey through seascapes, human memory and primeval states of mind; Wolfgang Tillmans, whose work, beyond its documentary value, reveals the true nature of viewpoints, while an invisible line links his inner landscape without failing to impact on the viewer.

Three books of photography that you recommend? 

VC: ‘Inside and Outside the Frame - On Photography, Art and the Art World’ by Martha Rosler; ‘La Chambre Claire’ by Roland Barthes; ‘Kleine Geschichte der Photographie’ by Walter Benjamin.

'Retrospective' of the photographer Joel Sternfeld at the former place of the C/O Berlin. An epic journey across America - the landscapes, streetscapes, parks, and houses, along with their residents, seem unspectacular, harmless and familiar, yet the images are unexpectedly powerful.

©Varda Carmeli. Installation view, Joel Sternfeld, Retrospective, C/O Berlin, 2013

Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

VC: For several years I have been working on a large-scale photo project on Judaism - Christianity, and I will be happy to update about it when the time comes.

What do you think about Israeli photography? Is it distinct from photography produced in other countries? In what ways?

VC: With regard to Israeli art, there is no doubt that the Jewish history, the political and social situation, and the pace of life in Israel, are dominant and have a clear influence on the Israeli art. Of course, the winds of art blowing from the world are also an influential factor expressed in the local work.

Over the years I have experienced the difference in the welcoming of my works between Israel and Europe - politically, socially and artistically.

© Varda Carmeli still images of the book 'Area C'

What is your challenge now as a photographer?

VC: In my way of working there is no search for a challenge waiting to be conquered. I envisage a continuation of my artistic work nourished by love, intuition, openness to whatever comes along, curiosity and attitude expressed through the creative result. After years in which I engaged in a wide variety of disciplines, as well as the numerous years I devoted to art, you can – assuming you have met all the requirements – relate to the concept of "challenge" only after realizing it. You have then crossed the bridge and achieved your goal.


Varda Carmeli
urbanauitica Israel