In Conversation with Photographer Shai Kremer

Published: February 3rd 2010

From the New Horizons project
Pic: Shai Kremer
From the New Horizons project
Pic: Shai Kremer


Having grown up in Israel and being familiar with the landscape, you managed to view it with a different lens, juxtaposing the beauty with the ravaging aftermath from countless attacks. How did you reach this realization and why did you decide to make it an art project? 


Since I started photographing, I was always attracted to landscapes. In the meantime, in Israel, I was shocked by the disfiguring omnipresence of things military laying within the bucolic scenery. I look at landscapes in a very reverent and almost spiritual way; the pervasion of IDF tanks, military sites, seemed like a complete intrusion in this landscape (and in the life and minds of my fellow countrymen).


In 1999, I started photographing this ominous imprint of the military on the Israeli landscape - and reflectively, on Israeli society. My images mirror the psychological trauma and resulting ambivalence of living in a world of friction, and they also warn against vestiges of warfare becoming a permanent fixture in people's lives.


I decided to take it towards an art project because I believe that we are already saturated by media pictures, and, as Susan Sonntag explained, the media war images make us callous to violence and the suffering of others. Moreover, I also agree with Richard Misrach saying that "beauty can be a very powerful conveyor of difficult ideas." And as you know, the use of strong military "defense" is a very sensitive subject in Israel, so questioning its necessity is a difficult idea...


As written by Sverker Svorlin, “military landscapes […] are collective memories. They remind us that political violence has a spatiality and that it can be found also amongst landscape that we have learned to love […]. Giving these military landscape some visibility may therefore be an act of peace."


The composition of your photographs are compelling (one of my favourites is "View of a Mine Field, Abandoned Syrian Base, Golan Heights, 2007"). How do you approach each shot?


The images I shoot are often formally attractive, aesthetic, orderly compositions, apparently “innocent” and poetic. This parallels the defense mechanisms developed by Israelis striving for normalcy and to protect themselves from the reality of the current political situation. The scars concealed in the landscape correspond to the wounds in the collective conscious of the country. The landscape, infected with loaded sediments of the ongoing conflict, becomes a platform for discussion. The photographs attract the viewer, seduce him closer, then challenge him to reflect on their meaning and implications: a personal style that has been called “both clinical and emotional."


The way I approach a shoot is very intuitive. I'm constantly driving all throughout my country, taking roads never travelled and side ways. When I see a scene that, I feel, belongs to the project and my beliefs, I often come back several times to the site, at various hours, to work out a frame, a light and everything that creates a picture.


Your work has reached a global audience, as it's been exhibited around the world. What do you (continue to) hope to achieve with this project and how has it been received?


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