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The participatory photography of Skip Schiel

Posted: September 27, 2012 - 12:01am
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Quaker Palestine Youth Program, West Bank.  Photo by Skip Schiel
Photo by Skip Schiel
Quaker Palestine Youth Program, West Bank.

For those accustomed to mass-media photojournalism, Skip Schiel’s approach to his craft and resulting body of work might come as a bit of a surprise. Schiel is a participatory photographer, a photojournalist who moves past traditional barriers of objectivity toward a more immersive experience with his subjects. His work, while most often centered in an area of conflict, such as his ongoing projects in Israel and Palestine, does not share the intense focus on violence and strife that most photojournalists seek out in such places, highlighting instead subtler aspects of daily life — a peace march, a market scene, a shared smile.

“May these images better balance the plethora of main media images we constantly experience: catastrophe, despair, ruination, death,” Schiel writes in his artist’s statement. “May they help broaden the palette of art to include hope, faith, fun, exhilaration, antics, joy, friendship, worship, love. In the midst of a troubled time, may they affirm the life force.”

Schiel, based in Cambridge, Mass., has been in Southeast since last week, when he presented ‘The Hydropolitics of Palestine and Israel’ for the Juneau World Affairs council’s first event of the season last Thursday. If you missed that talk, there are three more scheduled for this weekend, all with a different focus.

Tonight, at 7 p.m., he will present “Eyewitness Gaza” at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, a multimedia presentation based on his documentary movie of the same name.

On Friday, Schiel will lead a multi-media presentation for this week’s Evening at Egan series lecture, titled. “Israel, the Occupied Territories, and Nonviolent Resistance.” it begins at 7 p.m. in the Egan Library on the UAS campus.

And on Sunday he will present “Tracing The Jordan River Through Israel And Palestine,” at 7 p.m., at Northern Light United Church.

Schiel has been traveling to Israel and Palestine since 2003, making more than seven trips in that time. In getting his footing in that area, Schiel drew on his strong connection to the Quaker community, which he has been a part of in the US since 1980. The Quaker presence in Ramallah extends back to 1869, when a girls school was opened there, and later the Friends International Center in Ramallah was formed. Schiel has taught photography classes and workshops through the The Ramallah Friends School, and worked with the Quaker Palestine Youth Program during his visits, among other groups.

His work in Israel and Palestine has developed into many different projects, including the photography exhibits “With an Open Heart: Photos & Stories from Palestine & Israel” and “Female in Palestine (Women and girls attempting to live normal, free lives in the occupied territories of Palestine),” as well as the film “Eyewitness Gaza” and the print exhibition “The Living Waters of Israel-Palestine.”

Schiel’s other work spans a wide variety of subjects, all with a common base of humanitarian and environmental awareness. For one project, called “Auschwitz to Hiroshima: A Pilgrimage, 1995” Schiel embarked on an interfaith pilgrimage of more than 10,000 miles from Auschwitz to Hiroshima with a group of people that numbered between 25 and 600. The group started at Auschwitz in December 1944, and traveled through Croatia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines before ending up in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1994, 50 years to the day after the historic bombing. The pilgrimage, an interfaith project organized by a Buddhist group, was made to mark that anniversary and to call attention to similarities between the conditions that led to World War II, and conditions in the modern world.

Another project, “Making the Invisible Visible: Prisons in the United States” focused on prison conditions in Massachusetts.

When he’s not on the road, Schiel teaches at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education in Harvard Square, and has previously taught at Boston College, the Landscape Institute, and Al Aqsa University in the Gaza Strip. He taught film for many years before turning back to photography, a childhood passion.

Schiel’s Juneau presentations will focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and will combines his photography with talks based on his experiences in these regions.

For more on Schiel, visit teeksaphoto.org and skipschiel.wordpress.com.

Know and go

What: “Eyewitness Gaza,” multimedia presentation with Skip Schiel, sponsored by Aldersgate United Methodist Church
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept 27
Where: Aldersgate United Methodist Church

What: Evening at Egan: “Israel, the Occupied Territories, and Nonviolent Resistance” with Skip Schiel
When: 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 28
Where: UAS Egan Lecture Hall

What: “Tracing the Jordan River through Palestine & Israel,” multimedia presentation with Skip Schiel, sponsored by Juneau People for Peace and Justice
When: 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept 30
Where: Northern Light United Church

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