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Interview with Varda Carmeli

"I decided, in the late summer of 2013, to visit Area C with no prior objectives in mind other than a desire to see, to feel and to reveal what I'd experienced. The results appeared in the shape of my book Area C published by Olam Hadash (New World) Press, as well as in an exhibition in 2016 under the same name "Area C" in Artspace Gallery Tel Aviv."

Spotlight – Varda Carmeli

Varda Carmeli lives and works in Hod Hasharon and in Old Jaffa. She is a multidisciplinary artist working in the media of painting, print, installation and photography. Photography has played a dominant role in her artwork in recent years. She resumed working in art after engaging for years in international commerce and project entrepreneurship. She studied at the School of Art as well as in additional art frameworks and has taken part in numerous exhibitions in Israel and abroad. She has been awarded prizes for her works which are held in a large number of collections.

You describe the way you photograph as setting out for a stroll – it sounds very spontaneous – a sudden decision to set out and photograph. And the photograph too, the snapshot, is very spontaneous but in the same breath demands planning. Could you enlarge on that a little?

The central part of my work in photography comprises projects over wide expanses of place and time. I concretize the conceptual framework of a project before, during, or at the end of my journey and enjoy every bit of the curiosity and surprise that comes along. One could of course define this way of photographing as taking snapshots but my work is chiefly governed by intuition and by looking ahead at the interesting places and sights that stir me.

For instance, in the series of photographs "I See Memory" photographed during 2004-2015 in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, on my first visit to Berlin I felt like I was returning to a familiar place and that point marked the beginning of my journey of remembrance. The work process was based on direct photography in the manner of receiving stimuli and sensations while attempting to relate to the elusive condition of the subconscious, time and symbolism as well as understanding that the thing we see presents in effect another reality. This is how we create the process of "reminiscence" and the aura connected to memory.

While wandering around the city I was unable to ignore those seemingly meaningless corners that induce a pause, a second look, a reflection and consequently to photograph and document, for instance photographs of women under the caption "déjà vu'. This process gives rise to life stories, associations and memory, a more-than-meets-the-eye process. Places appear to have been photographed at random, but only seemingly so. I am as though waiting to meet them, and when they appear and become recognized and personalized they resonate and awaken memories of days gone by.

I had a different wandering experience in Beijing, which I visited because I was interested in the changes being made in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. I stayed over for more than a month strolling throughout the huge city, experiencing disregard, deportation, little sympathy and even threat, on the part of people in military uniforms, in places undergoing destruction and evacuation and where photography was strictly forbidden. In due course I determined which topics I would concentrate on. Most of the photographs were shot in the hutong areas, those selfsame ancient neighborhoods, that have been in existence for hundreds of years, comprising small houses surrounding an inner courtyard and divided between several families that developed into a community obeying unique social orders. Most of the hutongs that I came across were undergoing a process of intensive destruction and were being turned into areas of luxurious high-rise towers, whereas the original residents of these selfsame neighborhoods had been uprooted and settled in high-rise buildings in the periphery of the city with all the consequences of such changes and their social impacts.

Beyond taking photographs in general in the city, I concentrated on three series, the principal one being panoramic photographs constructed out of iconic objects shot in diverse neighborhoods and fashioned into creating an open allegorical picture of the street and its residents. The photographs enabled the display of images of landscapes and ancient lifestyles that had been preserved to the day in question, up to a moment before the change occurred, and during its occurrence.

" The elusive condition of the subconscious" from the series "I see memory"

You have photographed various places in the world. I would like to relate to your photographs of India. Although we have already seen thousands of photographs from that country, yours were different: Clean, aesthetic, and even inviting and relaxing. Is that really how you experienced it?

India is a country of numerous faces, places, religions, languages, odors and culinary delights and with a severe population density. The first-time visitor finds it difficult to cope with the profusion and the sights that are sometimes discomforting. I returned to India several times and got acquainted with the essentially different regions. I related to the local scenery like to an aesthetic almost dreamlike composition. To my eye the colors, the images and the shapes transformed into the essence of the personality of India on the one hand while connecting it to the universal essence on the other hand. I was pleased with the result of turning my experience of India into separating the wheat from the chaff.

Let us now speak about your series of photographs "Area C". What lay behind your decision to photograph there?

As a person, as an Israeli, and as a creative artist I experience, like everyone else, the Israeli existence with its good moves and also the bad situations that we take to heart. I express these things by artistic creativity in all its aspects. One of the projects I worked on over the years and titled "Protective Wall" comprised photographs I shot of the wall in the Jerusalem area and Abu Dis and exhibited already in 2004 in Gallery 24 Berlin.

The sentence that concluded the text I wrote for that exhibition was: "May this wall, the essence of pessimism, obligate the two peoples to find a way to end the struggle and conflict between them."

I was in military service during the Six Day War and for its 50th anniversary I decided, in the late summer of 2013, to visit Area C, with no prior objectives in mind other than a desire to see, to feel and to reveal what I'd experienced. The results appeared in the shape of my book Area C published by Olam Hadash (New World) Press, as well as in an exhibition in 2016 under the same name "Area C" in Artspace Gallery Tel Aviv and curated by Nir Harmat.

The opening sentence of the text that I wrote in the book Area C : "I set out to observe the place and heard the cry of silence and the thundering sound of this harsh land."

"I heard the cry of silence" from the series "Area C"

When you look at the photographs shot in Area C there is a sense of desolation. Numerous views of a ghost town and also whoever appears in the picture is mostly photographed from a distance. Was that done on purpose? What message did you intend to convey?

I set out on a riveting, complex and multi-faceted journey to inhabited and uninhabited places of varying accessibility where even those that are accessible induce a sense of security fears. I enabled the camera lens to very curiously capture an existence while intending the photographing act to enhance the accessibility of the place that is daily so near and yet so far from the eye of anyone from whom the reality is hidden. On the one hand I photographed the expanse, a breathtaking and inspiring primeval landscape, and on the other hand I met Palestinians and Jews, was exposed to the severe tension between them but also to bright spots with groups on either side trying to bridge and close the gaps between them.

I documented people and living reality as well as the expanse of land and sky. The human situation at present (where present becomes present continuous) is existence in conflict with its sense of temporariness an unimaginable privilege, to our regret. Portrayal of the landscape serves to document the passing moment within the fingerprint of time. The bias toward the historical in the photography of this region does not spring from a forward look but rather from the yearning for a past inscribed in thousands of years of history.

From the series Area C

What is your biggest challenge as an outdoor photographer?"

My occupation is combining the subject that interests me with the act of photography and the magic created by each discovery. Since I arrived at photography by way of engaging in painting, installation and print, I assume that photographic vision derives from the aesthetic code of the application of paint and the frame.

The surface serves as a stage on which the significant scene occurs and the occurrence serves as the object to be photographed.

In my way of working there is no search for a challenge waiting to be conquered. I envisage a continuation of my artistic work nourished by love, intuition, openness to whatever comes along, curiosity and attitude expressed through the creative result. After years in which I engaged in a wide variety of disciplines including international marketing and entrepreneurship of projects, among other things, as well as the numerous years I devoted to art, you can – assuming you have met all the requirements – relate to the concept of "challenge" only after realizing it. You have then crossed the bridge and achieved your goal.

Content input: 25.11. 2016

Varda Carmeli - Area c

Varda Carmeli - Area c

Varda Carmeli - Area c