Natan Dvir – Eighteen
“Although I grew up and spent most of my photographic career in Israel, I felt I did not truly know or understand its Arab society – over a fifth of the population consisting of hundreds of thousands of families who stayed within Israel’s borders after it was established in 1948. This large minority, which is currently experiencing a challenging identity crisis, has been somewhat forgotten amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a highly political environment I became interested in the stories of these people living as a minority in a country defined by its majority’s religion.
I aim to confront and dispute the widespread misconceptions and stereotypes of the people within my own country who I was brought up to consider more as foes rather than as allies. I decided to focus on Arab men and women at the age of eighteen, a crucial turning point in their lives, when they complete school, become legal adults, and earn the right to vote. Yet unlike their Jewish peers, most do not join the military. By photographing and portraying my so-called ‘enemy’, I hope to highlight the impact that cultural and internal conflict have had on these young people, personally and collectively.”
“I chose to photograph my subjects in their close surroundings wishing to present the pictures with a sense of place and attempting to reveal the social context within which they live. The essence of the intimate environmental portraits does not lie in their aesthetics, but rather in their complex dynamics – unwelcoming expressions and body language testifying to the tense nature of our engagement. The portraits are combined with personal testimonies and candid images describing the transformation of my interaction with my subjects and illuminating their lives.”
“Eighteen is an artistic point of contact serving as an invitation to get closer. A project aimed at reconciliation through understanding and respect. An inside view by one who is typically regarded as an outsider. If I, a Jewish Israeli man, have been accepted and was allowed into my subjects’ personal lives – so can others.”
The project was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Other Israel Film Festival.
As a photographer from the opposite camp how did you manage to find your subjects and how did you convince them to take part in your project?
Finding my subjects was quite hard and required a lot of research and production efforts. Everybody would question my intentions and would be afraid of what I will end up doing with the photographs and interviews. I asked almost anybody I could think of to help me in finding the right people for the project. Some people didn’t want to assist, some recommended others that might know somebody, and some actually put me in touch with suitable candidates. I ended up building a network of over 80 people that helped reach the individuals I photographed. I used 3 translators that served also as videographers to break down the ice and make the initial contact that would allow me to get to the houses and talk with the young people and their families. I ended up photographing 40 men and 24 women.
You obviously do not consider the Arabs to be your enemies. How do you actually see them?
I see them first of all as people and try not to impose on them any pre-conceived ideas, though I admit it might be hard sometimes. We all have subconscious ways to perceive people which might create barriers. I feel the first step in crossing such barriers is trying to openly familiarize with the other leading into dialogue instead of alienation.
What is the Israeli 18-year-old’s view on the Arabs of the same age now? What is the relationship between them?
I don’t think it’s appropriate to generalize and look for a single view. It’s a personal question of course. While some look for coexistence, respect and friendship, others prefer to emphasis the differences and regard Arab people as potential threats or even as enemies. People are influenced by their family and friends, but the general atmosphere, by current events, and of course by the media. There’s an expression in Hebrew that I feel many believe in – “Kabdehu, ve’hashdehu” – Respect him, yet suspect him.