Adi Nes

Untitled (the prisoners' series), Israel, 1999

Color print photograph 60x90cm

Courtesy of the artist and Sommer Contemporary Art Gallery, Tel Aviv

The Prisoners

This photograph is part of a series taken by Adi Nes for a special issue of the fashion magazine “Vogue”, devoted to six Middle Eastern cities. Nes chose to represent Tel Aviv with a fictitious prison site, expressing the character of Israeli life by means of representation of power relations and the claustrophobic experience of imprisonment:

“The analogy developed as a comment on Israel, not a concrete prison. I wanted to talk about Israel as a place where you and your neighbours are in an enclosed area, from which you have no way out or escape. About very fixed borders in which many different forces operate, such as veteran Israelis, immigrants, Palestinians and foreign workers…The minute we put ourselves in the role of prison guard to someone else, we put ourselves inside a prison with him. When we act powerfully against the other – even if it’s out of distress and fear – we put ourselves in the weaker position.”

The language of authority, which decides who will be in and who remain outside, who is an enemy and who a friend, emerges from the photograph five men standing for an identity parade. This scenario simulates the common practise of putting a person suspected of a crime in a line with other people of similar appearance, while they are regarded as innocent. Inevitably, this practise is also based on stereotypical prejudices which determine which people will look like one another. The photograph reminds us that the real political tensions, created by the activities of Israeli and Palestinian separatists, make the use of stereotypes inevitable and even dangerous, as they manufacture a perception of otherness stemming from the attempt to control a highly fluid state of affairs.