In June 2007 when Hamas seized all power in the Gaza Strip, Israel closed its gates and declared the strip a “hostile entity“. The number of trucks entering the strip has since dropped by 80 per cent. Some goods do not come in at all. Since 2 November 2008, for example, no petrol for public use has entered the Gaza Strip and only 67 per cent of the needed diesel for power plants has been received. Because of a lack of spare parts and fuel the sewage system is not functional anymore. The results: ponds of stinking sewage are growing. Each day about 28 Olympic size swimming pools are pumped in the Mediterranean because they cannot be treated.
The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are cut off from the outside world by the Israelis. Unemployment has risen to 44 per cent. From 3900 businesses, only 90 are still operating due to the blockade. 70 per cent of people live from $1 per day. The poverty results in a bad diet which affects the health of the Gazans.
Kai Wiedenhöfer – The Book of destruction
The objective of the project is to highlight the outright violation of article 33 (collective punishment) and article 55 (securing food/medical supplies) of the 4th Geneva Convention by the Israelis with the almost full complicity of the EU and US. The longer the blockade and the occupation will last the more extremism will grow.
As I have worked already two years of my life in Gaza and know the place very well, I want to work on a precise visual concept to produce the book and exhibition that the Carmignac photojournalism Award wants to present afterwards. My three mayor subjects are:
1. The debris
• In colour landscape photographs I want to describe what Gaza looks like after the attack at the turn of the year (I attach nine photographs that I took in Gaza in two days in January this year to illustrate this idea roughly).
• the people still living in the rubble or in the six tent camps like Mohammed Attar in the Al-Rayan Camp. He decorated his tent with furniture tiles and curtains he salvaged from his destroyed home nearby.
2. The siege: The daily life of people dealing with the blockade
As for example:
• the queues in front of the food storages of the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) and the World Food Program ;
• pollution : the stinking lakes of sewage waiting to be dealt with. Recently five men drowned when the dam of a sewage lake broke.
• the treatment of mentally unstable Palestinians especially children, who have suffered as a result of the siege.
• the tunnel industry in Rafah which keeps the Gaza Strip alive.
• water: in 1990 when I was in Gaza for the first time tab water was still drinkable. Today Gazans queue up at certain wells to fill up canisters to get potable water. The attack in 2008/9 also destroyed the water network: 40 000 houses are still without running water.
• the wall and fence structures around the strip were heavily enforced over the last two years. It is the best visual symbol for the siege.
• on 1 January 2010 there will be a massive attempt to break the siege.
3. The remains of the Israeli settlements
In summer 2005 I had photographed about 50 panoramas of Israeli settlements during the withdrawal of the Israeli army and settlers from the Gaza Strip. The idea behind these pictures is to go back and re-photograph them with the exactly same framing to visualize the physical absence of the Israeli from the strip. Always two photographs will be presented in a pair before and after. With these sets I want to tackle one major visual problem: Over the last two decades I witnessed an almost complete separation between the two peoples. Though visually the Israelis are not present anymore they determine the life of the Palestinians now almost completely.
I don’t want to repeat work I have already done in Gaza and, therefore, will stay away from the usual clichés and photographs connected with the strip as for example funerals and armed, masked fighters. I want to deal with the life of ordinary people. Speaking Arabic fluently gives me excellent access to the Palestinians. In general the network of contacts that I have built up over the last 19 years working in the occupied territories and my knowledge of the place make it easy for me to work there.
Watch the video of the exhibition Kai Wiendenhöfer – The Book of Destruction, au Musée de l’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris, 2010
Visit the photographer’s webpage
- William Klein jury chairman, photographer, film-maker and artist
- Christian Caujolle journalist, curator and founder of VU agency and gallery
- Guillaume Herbaut photographer and founding member of the agency Œil Public
- Fabrice Hergott director of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
- Jean-Luc Marty editor-in-chief of Géo Magazine
- Alain Mingam photojournalist, exhibition organiser and agent
- Vivienne Walt correspondent for Time Magazine