C-print , 100x150 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Dvir Gallery Tel Aviv
“There it is, maybe the most notorious thing, such an unsettling thing, in Pavel Wolberg’s photographs: the absence of horror”, writes Erez Schweitzer in his essay. “Viewing them is not depressing, although the reality they document is one of profound oppression; they do not infuriate, although the actions they depict are infuriating; they’re not defiant, although very many moments documented by them call for the implementation of justice; they do not instill a feeling of identification, although the distress they document is tangible, acute and ongoing; they do not arouse discomfort, although the reality they describe is vividly and notably unbearable. To put it otherwise, Pavel Wolberg’s photographs do not offer the comfort of empathy, of solidarity, of standing on the right side of the barricade.
Is that enough?
And yet it is probable that the key to his artistic world lies in his oscillation between these two. The way in which he frequently neutralizes his photographs from expected loads of sentiment and political conscience not only makes space for perceiving them as aesthetic objects done with great craftsmanship – which is to say manipulative, “personal,” for better or for worse – but also unmasks for the viewers the less immediate semblance of documented reality, its timeless dimension. It is probable that just because of that bothersome gap between a reality suffused with horror that Wolberg’s bears witness to and the absence of horror from his works, in precisely that gap are expressed his specific attitude as a photographer and his perception of the reality in which he acts.
Violence in Israeli-Palestinian society is ubiquitous, present day after day in the media until its potential for shock is warped, until the viewers’ senses are coarsened. The violence of the Israeli side is always represented in the media within some setting of justification or, at least, legitimized by what is defined as a “state of war“. In order to feel once again to what extent Israeli society has become aggressive, the lens has to be diverted to civilians, to the streets, from whence aggression resurges from the realm of the repressed. Feelings of shock before Wolberg’s photographs do not emerge at the sight of dismembered corpses, sites of terrorist attacks or ruined houses but right here, in the day-to-day through which shock has continuously been filtered, until it became immanent. When masked, the face of Israeli society is unveiled. Denial, the elementary sustenance of Israeli experience, is thereby revealed.”