For the series To Discover America , Tali Amitai-Tabib did research through the historical archives of the American photography focusing specifically on women’s representation. The artist studied the works of photographers from the 1930’s to the 1950’s such as Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn or Jack Delano. It took her four years to build this body of work that questions, from a woman’s perspective, the concept of conquest of new territories, as a metaphor of an interior path.
She keeps a large place for subjectivity and comments: “I want to tell a story, I don’t have to tell the truth”. The artist starts from a story or a contemporary event and presents his own vision through the technique of photographic montage.
To Discover America is mostly focused on women from the 30’s until the 1950’s whom the artist integrates in landscapes from her homeland – pictures taken over 40 years of career – often empty and somehow dark. Her photographs convey a feeling of concern – anxiety even – as these women appear lonely and have to face the dangers of the world.
“Trudl Böhm-Williams was my mother’s cousin. She was born in Munich in the middle of the First World War. Like many others, the right to go on with her studies or work had been denied in 1934 after the Nazis came to power. She was sent by her parents to Palestine and left to go to Italy after two years. In the beginning of 1939 she found refuge in Britain. Her extended family found refuge in the U.S.A, Colombia, and Palestine. Her widowed father was the only one who stayed in Germany. All her possessions on earth were a few clothes, a Rolleiflex camera, and a stock of films.
In Britain she began to photograph. She photographed places where she lived, worked and spent her vacations. To the letters she wrote to her family in Israel, Colombia, and the United States, she always attached one or two photos she had taken. She continued to send photos also to their descendants – whom she had never met – until her death in 2003. This is the collection of photographs of Trudl Böhm-Williams, which I gathered from my relatives, scanned, and reprinted.
Tel Aviv, 2015
“On September 2003 I got fired from my work. I have been working since I was 16 years old. “Times have changed” my boss told me”,” In a few years from now the world won’t need workers like you, manual labor is dead, long live the digital age”. As a result of that my life changed completely. All of a sudden I had plenty of free time, the clock wasn’t ticking for me anymore.
On September 2003 I got acquainted to the Lomo –LCA . I have been taking pictures since the age of 11, always looking for a better camera, better lenses, a better frame.
By then I was quiet well known in my country as an artist-photographer. The Lomo as a simple camera gave me the freedom of disobeying rules of aiming, light measuring, or any other techniques I was familiar with. I started to shoot in my free time, taking the camera with me everywhere, using it as a documenting tool.”
This exhibition is part of a big collection of images I made since September 2003.
“Music has always played a crucial role in my life as a woman and as an artist. Vienna was a must-see destination for me, in the sense that it had a double symbolic significance: world capital of music in the 18th et 19th centuries, it is still today a city where music is “made”, played and played out. interpreter. In this sense, it appeared to me as an emblematic cultural bridge between the centuries, between what was composed there and what can be listened to every evening in its many concert halls.
For the first time in the Cultural Stations cycle, I allowed myself to photograph characters: musicians on a rehearsal day. The eminently lively nature of music in Vienna today gave me almost no other choice.
On a more formal level, the example of a piano posed on the stage of an empty theater allowed me to push further this plastic research on the question of the immense space which is filled with the presence of a object of much smaller proportions. This emptiness was not; the light, the sounds and the mental projection of the spectator of each photograph will perhaps find to tie to the perspectives and the rigorous geometries of these architectures.”
“We read books without ever having to meet their authors. The media tell us about it, show us a public image and give us the illusion of knowing them. In the project The author’s space, I tried to draw their portrait beyond the physical presence by photographing their most intimate space: their office.
In my series on libraries, museums and concert halls, we find ourselves in the presence of public spaces, shaped both by architects and by successive generations of works on display. Here, the space is organized by the artist for his own work.
A second line of thought seemed relevant to me: to confront the timelessness of places destined to endure with the ephemeral life of an office which will disappear at the same time as the writer who uses it. Contemporary Israeli literature occurs in these workplaces, and I have sought to fix their physical reality in time, as a way to approach the concept of artistic inspiration.”
“When I was born, Israel was five years old. Almost everything around me had just been built. The cities and neighborhoods seemed to me untouched by all life and color. The clothes we wore looked like uniforms, as their faded colors did not attract the eye. As a child, I felt very dissatisfied with what I saw. I had not known anything but my most immediate environment, but I was certain that there was somewhere a colorful and rich world of diversity.
Thirty-five years later, I have embarked on a “photographic dialogue” with different forms of artistic expression envisioned in their presentation space: libraries in Oxford, museums in Florence and concert halls in Vienna. In these places that I have scrupulously taken care to empty, the trace of man and the movements of light appear as metaphors of knowledge and creation.
I aim to explore the relation of the object to the space that surrounds it. In the case of the museums of Florence, I was interested in this recurring dialectic around the question of beauty, which plays out between the works on display and the magnificence of the architecture of the palaces. The rooms are often very spacious; some are so filled with sculptures and paintings that others arouse astonishment so much they seem empty. And each time, the natural light that I had the authorization to let in by opening the shutters, came to bring harmony and a feeling of power to these museum staging.”
“When the term « library » comes up in contemporary art, two monumental works that may serve as a point of departure for this theme come to mind: Anselm Kiefer’s library – The High Priestess: Land of the Two Rivers (1985-89) – and Micha Ullman’s underground Library in the Bebelplatz in Berlin (1995). Both these works are in fact memorial monuments – one for the cradle of civilization in Mesopotamia, and the other for the burning of the books on 10 May 1933. In both these amazing works the concept of “the library” as a storehouse of human knowledge, research and creation seems to collapse, and what remains of it is testimony that all that is present cries out for the absent.
On this background, the libraries that Tali Amitai-Tabib has photographed – museums that still hold and preserve what humanity has managed to store in the course of its existence, despite its existence – are viewed with a sense of relief and well-being. Amitai-Tabib’s libraries are empty of users. Man is not present there, and only the receptacles designed to contain him (a displaced chair awaiting its occupant) and other appliances that serve him (a table-lamp) attest that he has not arrived yet or perhaps has already left. Nonetheless, the appropriateness of human culture is chearly discernible in them: the library spaces are punctiliously organized, with balanced, central symmetry, while the network of vertical and horizontal lines of the infinite avenues of shelves seems to line up with frame of the photograph. The light that returns through the windows and doors focuses the architectural arrangements that enable it to penetrate inwards, and creates a slight tremor in the closed space. The exterior, however, almost always remains outside the bounds, and the sense of enclosure and blocking hovers over all of the works.
In most of the photographs in the series, Tali Amitai-Tabib manages to hide the laden shelves and the other details of the library, so that they are assimilated and swallowed up in the space, which becomes a kind of sacred place that silences anyone with awe who treads there; and still, the enigmatic atmosphere of the place seems to be directed outwards, to the mysterious and the visionary. This oscillation between a sense of being trapped with no exit and a structured light that creates an infinite tremor is shown to us from another library space, one that is considered to be a great achievement in Renaissance architecture: the Medici Library in Florence. The famous stairwell of this library profoundly influenced Mark Rothko’s conception of “the sublime”, and inspired the murals that he planned for the “Four Seasons” restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York, immediately after his return from a visit to Florence in 1959: “After I had been at work for some time, I realized that I was much influenced subconsciously by Michelangelo’s walls in the staircase of the Medici Library in Florence. He achieved just the kind of feeling I’m after – he makes the viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the wall”.
Extract from the preface of the exhibition catalog Libraries at Tel Aviv University (Genia Schreiber University Art Gallery, 2001)