Photography book takes unflinching look at victims of Arab-Israeli conflict

Gillian Laub's first, 'Testimony,' contains 50 portraits of Israelis

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2007

NEW YORK - When Gillian Laub took off for Israel five years ago, she didn't know what she was going to photograph.

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She only knew she had go to there and make pictures, as they say in the business. She felt compelled to document something about this troubled little country at the center of a violent conflict that swallows lives like an angry, swollen river.

After 18 trips to Israel, the talented shooter finally figured it out and has assembled her photos in a book called "Testimony," which will be published by Aperture in May.

The book - Laub's first - contains 50 portraits of people living in Israel, including the combustible West Bank.

With her medium-format camera, Laub captures a provocative mixture of broken bodies, survival and hope among Israelis, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and displaced Lebanese families. Their attitudes run counter to widespread impressions of the region's inhabitants.

"The people I encountered were people who were reasonable and rational," Laub, 31, said in an interview. "They were not fanatics."

Laub, who is based in New York City and works for The New York Times Magazine and other major publications, is not a conflict or war photographer. But she manages to frame the horrors of war with jarring accuracy.

Above all, she does it fairly - no small feat considering the passions that divide those embroiled in this unrelenting struggle. In this region, pictures can be as inflammatory as words.

How does Laub succeed in her work? She randomly found men, women and children willing to talk and share their pain or thoughts in brief testimonies that accompany the pictures. Almost everybody was willing to talk. Almost everybody was willing to let her snap away.

The photos in the book evolve. At first, there are intense expressions and rattling perspectives.

Dimet, an Israeli who lives in Tel Aviv, refused to join the army. For this, he has become a pariah in a society that lionizes the army and where military service is mandatory. Laub photographs him in a park with his wife and three children.

"After so many years of war, why can't we just all move on," Dimet says, almost naively. "Stop the occupation and maybe they will stop bombing."

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