'What's the difference between a Palestinian and an Israeli?' Most of the spectators at the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH), answered: A Palestinian is Arabic, whereas the Israeli is Jewish. In counter to this simplistic answer, these artists put together the largest urban exposition ever realized in the world, 'Face2Face'. It's already been shown in Berlin, Arles, Paris, Amsterdam and Venice, and now it's being shown in Geneva from 7-16 March.
FIFDH in Geneva (Photo: ©Virginie Gerhard)
The idea is simple: take photographs of Palestinians and Israelis who practice the same trades, blow them up giant size, and display them on a wall which separates them, putting them literally 'face to face'. The portraits are original because they were shot with a 28 millimeter lens, 'which brings you within ten centimetres of the person being photographed. You can feel them breathe at this proximity,' JR says. This trusted complicity between the photographer and the model gives an original aspect to the portraits.
Their concept was born in Paris in 2005. In December 2006, JR began to 'shoot' 41 volunteers in both Israel and in Palestine. Doctors, sculptors, hairdressers and even religious men all submitted to this game of portraits. The adventure really began in March 2007 when JR and Marco started to put up the posters in eight cities in the Near East. They travelled with ladders, glue and their series of huge photographs through Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah, Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, and even Bethlehem. The ultimate stage of their adventure was between 4-7 March 2007, when they went to the very symbol of the conflict, the wall which divides Israel and Palestine, and glued their huge photographs along both sides of the wall.
In print and on the big screen
This whole adventure has led to a book, as well as a documentary directed by Gérard Maximin). The film takes 70 minutes to share the history of the exhibition, and all the reactions provoked by it. 'We were warned against doing it,' JR explains to the camera. But after being surprised, it's the laughter and curiosity that carries them. In this neutralised context, children, religious people, soldiers, and passer by's stop in front of the portraits and talk together.
Political and cultural exhibition
In Face2Face, laughter's dialogue has force: 'The only image they have of each other are the media pictures of terrorists' attacks,' JR emphasises. The goal of their exhibition is to show that all those inhabitants of the two places are not so very different; when you look at the portraits, it becomes difficult to differentiate between a Palestinian and an Israeli. And by taking the exhibition across Europe, these two artists and their giant portraits, are facing the indifference of Europeans to say that this war is taking too long to end; and that there's an absurdity in the very of the likeness of the people who are a part of it.