One to Nothing Photographs by Irina Rozovsky Published by Kehrer Verlag, 2011.
How does one take a picture of Israel and not account for the conflict? The proverbial elephant in the room? To an outsider, inundated by the news, such an approach seems impossible, or maybe even morally irresponsible. Irina Rozovsky's book One To Nothing examines contemporary Israel as a complex, but contest site - never giving us an answer, but leaving clues throughout. The very title, One To Nothing, suggest a zero sum game, or at the very least a slight edge, but to whom or what? What is refreshing is that the winner never emerges. Is it Israel and Palestine locked in struggle, or man, Arab or Jew, struggling in a land of dust and swelter? Rozovsky's Isreal is a land of modern ruins and ancient mysteries that never offers solutions, only questions and riddles.
Shot with a Hasseblad, the square format images have an inquisitive and evidentiary quality - pointing and forcing you to look. Rozovsky's utilizes a rich, but understated palette of colors. The dry and dusty landscape of the Middle East clashes with the rich colors of night, ancient paintings and the blossoming foliage of gardens and parks. Shot over the course of two years (2008-10), during several road trips in Israel, the book is much more than a road trip or simple travelogue. Paging through the book, I was reminded of Leo Rubinfien's magisterial Map of the East, which uses the 'East' as a starting point to explore a much larger and poignant personal journey. Like Rubinfien's book, Rozovsky does not confuse her subject with meaning, and aims for something deeper.
Fearful that their images will be too explicit, photographers often use claims of ambiguity as a mask for a lack of clarity, editing or intent. Rozovsky's images are surprising and mysterious, but nevertheless grounded. The tensions between past and present are explored in ways that are refreshing and subtle. In one pairing, the photo on the left reveals a crooked painting of Christ hanging above two large ladders (Christ's wrapped body echoing the prone diagonals formed by the two ladders), and to the right is an image of a man squeezing through the fenced turnstile of an ancient rampart. No clue is given to where the painting hangs, where the man is going, or why he needs to circumvent the ramshackle security gate. Throughout the book, the ancient and modern are precariously woven together by fragile filaments - awkwardly cohabitating a space that barely has enough room for the ancient history that hangs heavy over the land.
One of the many pleasures of the book is its intimate scale and brevity. Measuring a small 8.25"x8.25", the book demands to be held close. The book contains a tight edit of images that don't overstay their welcome. Single images grace the cover and back. On the front, two wrestlers grapple - hinting at the book's underlying theme and the larger symbolic conflicts of the area. On the back, an impassive donkey stands in the desert landscape suggesting a loss for words, mute neutrality, or perhaps representing the viewer or photographer. In addition to a few quotes, the book also contains two brief essays by Ilya Kaminsky and Jon Feinstein that examine and contextualize Rozovsky's work.
I first became acquainted with Rozovsky's work a couple of years ago when she entered the 2009 Blurb Photobook Now contest, and subsequently won an Honorable Mention. While I only saw a brief preview online, it is nice to see the book finally find a home and enter the world. Rozovsky has tackled a mercurial, but rich topic, and approaches it with wit, wisdom and subtlety.
Adam Bell is a photographer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and his work has been exhibited and published internationally. He is the co-editor and co-author, with Charles H. Traub and Steve Heller, of The Education of a Photographer (Allworth Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Foam Magazine, Lay Flat and Ahorn Magazine. He is currently on staff and faculty at the School of Visual Arts' MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department.