Jean Améry, a half-Jewish Holocaust survivor, philosopher and writer, became a refugee after the Nazis took over his country, Austria.
In his essay ”How much of a Homeland does a man need”, Améry says that it is only what we perceive very early in life, as we are getting hold of the outside world, that forms constant and unchangeable components of our personality. In the same way that we learn language without the rules of grammar, we become familiar with the environment we grow into. This is how familiarity and knowledge are created, which gives us a sense of security.
Améry goes on to say that, as much as he tried to assimilate into his new country’s language and culture, he always felt that he managed only to imitate it.
I was never so unfortunate as Améry. My nationality was never taken away from me. But when I read his reflections, I remember that during the many years I lived abroad, there was always something missing: the smell of the first rain on the earth after a long summer, the landscape, the weather, the people, familiarity with objects; most of all, the culture.
Photography is supposed to be an international language. But is it really so? My photography is definitely culture-related. Since my work is concerned with human situations, mostly, it could sometimes be misunderstood, or meaningless, to people of different cultures, outside Israel.
Understanding culture is easier for a native. My photographs are based on local culture, behaviour, human types and common environment and history. I photograph in Israel, for the Israeli viewer. It is not that I am aware of it all the time – but it is always there, in the back of my mind. It comes out naturally – this is the way I see.
The sharpness and irony and humour that are sometimes in my work, I direct at us, Israelis. It does not mean that only we can relate to my photographs. Culture is becoming more and more global. So is photography, particularly when the subject is, essentially, the human condition.
The homeland aspect of my photography was lacking during the 14 years that I lived in foreign countries. My photography has to have a meaning, tell a story to the people I am most involved with.