What can an artist working in photography say about a country where the political stakes of imagery are higher than elsewhere? Barry Frydlender was so paralysed by the use made of the photography during the first Intifada (1987–93) that he saw no other option than to abandon the medium. But his discovery of digital photography and the possibilities offered by its discrepancies with reality drew him back to photography in 1994. Running diametrically counter to photojournalism and the contemporary notion of the good photograph as the product of “the right man in the right place at the right time”, Frydlender reinjected patience and modesty back into photography. Into the question of “place” he brought time. Yet although he wasn’t the only one to do this, the “sound and the fury” pervading TV and press coverage of Israel, and his depiction of duration and passing time, imbued his photographs with a genuine strangeness.
Barry Frydlender’s panoramic formats can be misleading: one can see them as social panoramas of Israel, Jews and Arabs, the young and less young, hippies and hasidim, immigrant workers and indolent youth. His group or crowd photographs, usually taken outside, lead us into unexpected realms. One has to try and embrace what one’s eyes, attracted by a face, inscription, lost object or eloquent gesture, slowly begin to uncover, sift through, examine and compare. What’s going on? Frydlender leads us to the moment after, sketching in the surrounding landscape, neutralising the snapshot and abolishing its limits by rolling out time and space. Digital photography, collage and his use of scores, sometimes hundreds of photos to compose a panorama, play with the immediate: the sun never stops setting, people keep on walking, and interiors and exteriors are subjected to improbable extensions revealing more than reality (Pitzutsiah).
To the undeniable seductiveness of his attractively coloured panoramas, seemingly depicting a kind of cheerful life, Frydlender surreptitiously adds multiple meanings, irony and disquiet. It is as if the subtext of all these photographs was “where are we going?” Hidden in the moments photographed there is a tension to be thwarted: a children’s ball game on the invisible frontier between Jewish and Arab quarters (Jaffa / Bat Yam), a bucolic reunion of ultra-orthodox Jews outside of their normal context (Benediction), schoolchildren on a joyful outing to the Army Museum caught in a sudden downpour (Deluge). It is into this drawing out of space but also into photographic sedimentation which the artist inserts his reflection on the passage of time. There is no instant, the present exists only in a “continuum” laden with hope but also threats.
The sedimentation of photographic memory, the extension of space, the absorption of duration… Barry Frydlender’s images don’t stop there. He is also a virtuoso in the use of signs playing on formal links, on parallels with and rereadings of biblical texts in a very profane present. His photographs play on words and names, send out signals for us to decipher.
Barry Frydlender was born in 1954 in Tel-Aviv and still lives and works there. His photographs have been shown since the early 1980s in Israel and at numerous artistic events worldwide. He has recently had one-man exhibitions at Saint Anne’s Cathedral in Arles during the Rencontres Photographiques in 2005, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2007.
© Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme