Caption (photo above: image from Kollar’s book Field Trip. Source: STET Photography Editions.

More of Kollar’s work here

I’d say this is the exception and not the rule: sometimes authors’ statements about their work really add to it. I think this is the case: a brief and sincere text about the emotional experience that results in the set of photographs then published as Field Trip. Both images and text also make clear that our intimate and private experiences need not be separate from our political beings.

During a year spent in Israel, I experienced intense flashback memories from my childhood, quite unexpectedly, memories of growing up behind the Iron Curtain during the ‘normalization’ of Communist Czechoslovakia. Our partition wall prevented us from crossing over, protected us from outside influences, and also from ourselves. The familiarity of a strictly delineated territory, played out between a wall and a sea, started to connect and overlap in my mind. Tension and a sense of physical and psychological danger hung in the air — very basic human emotions that cannot be ignored.
My movements in and out of Israel resulted in a number of border checks and the inspection of my computer discs and hard drives by security agents at airports. After several brief police detentions in Israel, I began to realize that I could not reject the idea that I was under surveillance. Governments explain away these acts as ‘security measures’, but they were difficult for me to accept 20 long years after the end of the Communist regime. Somehow I found myself back in my psychic past, assessing situations with a mild sense of paranoia.
It is likely that the Israeli security police have a record of my movements under surveillance. I have been thinking that such a report would be the most fitting text for this book. But there are some things in life that we are destined to never fully comprehend, that we can’t prove or refute or avoid

 

Excerpt from a conversation between Martin Kollar and Charlotte Cotton (2014).

CC: Was that sense of anxiety about using a camera to represent contradictions and slippages a constant presence in your work in Israel?
MK: A lot of the people that I met through the research were concerned about how their situation would look in a photograph or what they might be accused of through the ‘evidence’ of a photograph. They wanted to control the context, wanted to fit it to their agenda. The society is operating on this very high level of fear, some of the people I met were concerned about being implicated in some way. Their tactic was usually very efficient, they simply said ‘no’. It works in a similar way in Eastern Europe or Russia. The first answer is always ‘no’ but ‘no’ luckily doesn’t mean ‘no always’. We just kept calling and knocking on doors. Sometimes it took months just to get through. We never gave up easily and remained patient.
[…]
CC: And were the unused images from the Palestinian side quite different from what we see in Field Trip?
MK: The West Bank is another planet with another set of problems. I wanted Field Trip to reflect something that I discovered and I got bothered about, to reflect the personal level of fear and danger that I felt. In Nothing Special (2008), I used humour to deal with social tension in a very direct way. Working in Israel, I wondered if it would be possible just to bring this tension directly into a book, to load those images with the tension and transmit that to the audience. I wanted to make photographs that are still comfortable to look at but somehow you’re absorbing the tension from the place.
CC: The situations in your photographs have a quality of being about to tip, there is a precariousness. Was it easy to find these signs of the tension in day to day interactions in Israel?
MK: It was extremely difficult to avoid it! That’s how it is. After I’d made the decision to not literally depict the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I was really just describing the tension on a very personal level. This allowed me to think about photographing in a very individuated way.
I wasn’t following the consequences of the conflict. I was trying to deal with how the future can be imagined in Israel – what might happen, the fear of possible danger, what that can look like. I recognise that this is a highly fictionalising act, reflecting upon how it could be. That’s why I was always looking for those images that present a possibility or a preparation for something.

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