Looking Back


Hardly the timeless and objective truths that they purport to be, photographs are rather collaborative constructions of encounters between the photographer, the photographed subject, the camera, and the viewer. This is often obscured by the photographer's success in controlling the various aspects of the image-making process to the degree that their images lack the signs of their making.

Fradelle & Young
Primitive Plough, Ottoman Palestine

 
Bedouin Children
 
 
 
Fradelle & Young
Through the Rocks, Jaffa 
 
 
Georges Saboungi
Mur de Salomon oú le juifs vont pleurer
 

Tiberias: Landing Stage
 
 

Fradelle & Young
Tomb of Lazarus
 

Fradelle & Young
Untitled
 

Bedouin

 

The unseen space of photography, however, comes to our awareness through the act of looking back. These images show the subjects actively looking back at the camera's eye, reacting in different ways to the presence of the camera and to the gaze of the photographer. The act of looking back disrupts the photographer's gaze and recreates a part of the unseen space, whether by exposing the construction of the scene or by conveying the subjects' experience of the photographic moment, varying between suspicion, acceptance, embarrassment, and even amusement.

The central image [71] in this series shows a man rowing a boat away from the Jaffa Port toward an awaiting steamship. He is turning back and smiling at the camera. The boat is cutting open the composition; everything in this image appears to be on the move. Yet this image seems to offer more than a documentation of a moment of departure. The open composition captures the act of making the image. Its unseen space is vividly present in the man's smile. As we face the man's reaction, we become the recipients of his gaze as if we have taken the position of the photographer: he is looking at us looking at him. We are no longer unseen observers but active participants.

Images like this one highlight the photographic gaze as more than a mechanism of merely visual perception and documentation. These rare instances bring to the surface the experience of the photographed subjects, allowing the viewers to move away from the final image, past the photographer's gaze, in order to see the people of the Holy Land come alive as subjects in their own right.