Rare is the occasion when black-and-white images convey such color. In “Laundry Hanging,” a photo exhibit at The Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, Zvika Krieger ’06 presents a series of pictures from the tension-filled area of the Middle East. Krieger is, in his own words, “an observer,” ultimately demonstrating a sense of devastation that just might be able to illuminate a tragedy to a jaded populace.
When a weathered face, caught unaware by the foreign eye of the camera, is contrasted with a bombed-out wall, the story of the Middle East transcends one of mere body counts, shelled villages and perpetual violence. It is the closest, perhaps, a viewer can get to the emotional implications of the Middle East without being personally involved.
He is especially skilled in capturing the day-to-day expressions in the face of one person, and, indeed, some of the most powerful pictures depict one or two people living in the sea of their surroundings. This is no small feat, considering the aesthetics and balance of all the photos. Their black-and-white and underexposure brings out the intricate detail of Jerusalem’s architecture, from the peeling plaster on a wall to the fruit-juice-stained tablecloths of the open market.
There is one photo, for example, taken at the Qalandya Checkpoint (outside a refugee camp), where a head-wrapped woman in a loose shawl seems to retreat against a wall underneath a white sheet as a scant shade. There is little reason to even notice her — half her face is shrouded in darkness. Extending beyond her perch are deep, twisted lines of cracking concrete, sharp graffiti and the swift blurs of other refugees. Yet she is magnetic: The lines of worry that paint her face are enough to draw us into her struggle, even one as simple as avoiding the sun. Finding shelter from the sun is so mundane that the viewer finds a connection, despite the distance and the cultural rift that has prevented some from caring in the past. The color of the picture thus springs from that connection, and no other faculty can bring up more vivid colors than the imagination.
The exhibit loses some power when the picture focuses exclusively on the surroundings — it seems they are pictures that we have seen countless times in news briefs on CNN, as was the case of one black-and-white depiction of Arafat’s bombed complex. The impact, unfortunately, is thus dwindled because of sheer overexposure. The power comes instead from pictures of the unexpected, when a sense of normalcy is drawn from the exotic, and the viewer relates to that interaction between citizen and environment.
With this in mind, one could see why it is unfortunate that the setup of the exhibit undermines the impact of the photos themselves. Spread around the room, the photos would have been better served in a room by themselves.
While the pictures themselves are powerful enough to convey a contrast between human and surroundings, the presence of a large table in the middle of the room as well as other announcements scattered around the walls diminish their impact. The setup, however, was conducive in that it forces spectators to lean closer to the picture, closing the distance between viewer and subject.
Nonetheless, even with this slight deterrence, it is worth taking a closer look at “Laundry Hanging,” if only to put a human face on an ongoing barrage of conflict. It is always a good idea to add a gravitas to the news we so casually separate from our own lives.
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