For the series To Discover America , Tali Amitai-Tabib did research through the historical archives of the American photography focusing specifically on women’s representation. The artist studied the works of photographers from the 1930’s to the 1950’s such as Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn or Jack Delano. It took her four years to build this body of work that questions, from a woman’s perspective, the concept of conquest of new territories, as a metaphor of an interior path.
Subjectivity is essential for her and she quotes: “I aim to tell a story, I’m not obliged to tell the truth”. The artist starts from a story or a contemporary event and brings her own vision through the technique of photomontage.
To Discover America is mostly focused on women from the 30’s until the 1950’s whom the artist integrates in landscapes from her homeland – pictures taken over 40 years of career -, often empty and somehow dark. Her photographs convey a feeling of concern - anxiety even - as these women appear lonely and have to face the dangers of the world.
Trudl Böhm-Williams was my mother's cousin. She was born in Munich in the middle of the First World War. Like many others, the right to go on with her studies or work had been denied in 1934 after the Nazis came to power. She was sent by her parents to Palestine and left to go to Italy after two years. In the beginning of XNUMX she found refuge in Britain. Her extended family found refuge in the U.S.A, Colombia, and Palestine. Her widowed father was the only one who stayed in Germany. All her possessions on earth were a few clothes, a Rolleiflex camera, and a stock of films.
In Britain she began to photograph. She photographed places where she lived, worked and spent her vacations. To the letters she wrote to her family in Israel, Colombia, and the United States, she always attached one or two photos she had taken. She continued to send photos also to their descendants - whom she had never met - until her death in 1939.
This is the collection of photographs of Trudl Böhm-Williams, which I gathered from my relatives, scanned, and reprinted.
Her only daughter, Patricia Rosa, was born in early XNUMX. For the safety of the mother and the baby, her husband moved them to his parents’ home in Brynamman, a village in South Wales, where they stayed until the end of the war. After the war, she sent urgent letters to her family in Colombia, requesting some emergency financial help.
The correspondence lasted another three years, and then was lost. No one knew where she was or why she disappeared. All efforts of the family to locate her over the years have failed.
In XNUMX I decided to solve the mystery of Trudl's disappearance. I figured that she was no longer among the living, and decided to focus on the search for her daughter.
Lack of details greatly hampered the investigation. Altogether the search lasted two years, which included, among other things, turning to a private investigator in London who indeed located her for me.
The relationship established with Patricia could not provide definite answers to Trudl's disappearance. But I have learned from her, who was her mother, the difficulties she had to face, and her daily survival struggles most of her life in Britain.
"She always dreamed to be a photographer,” I've been told by Patricia. In XNUMX I traveled twice to Britain. I tried to trace the routes of Trudl's life. I traveled to places she lived, worked, and spent her vacations. I heard about her from people who knew her. I sympathized with her struggles and dreams. I wanted to photograph what she might have captured with her eyes, to be the camera she never had.
With a simple camera and an image processing software, I hope I fulfilled her dream and told her story.
On September XNUMX I got fired from my work. I have been working since I was XNUMX years old. "Times have changed" my boss told me "In a few years from now the world won't need workers like you, manual labor is dead, long live the digital age". As a result of that my life changed completely. All of a sudden I had plenty of free time, the clock wasn't ticking for me anymore.
On September 2003 I got acquainted to the Lomo –LCA . I have been taking pictures since the age of 11, always looking for a better camera, better lenses, a better frame. By then I was quiet well known in my country as an artist-photographer.
A simple camera gave me the freedom of disobeying rules of aiming, light measuring, or any other techniques I was familiar with. I started to shoot in my free time, taking the camera with me everywhere, using it as a documenting tool.
Music has always been essential in my life, as a woman and as an artist. Vienna was a destination that I could no longer avoid as it had symbolic significance for me: Vienna was the capital city of music in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries and now, today, is a city where music is still "made", played and interpreted. Hence, I envisioned it as an emblematic cultural bridge over the centuries, between what was once composed and what now can be heard every night in its many concert halls.
For the first time in the Cultural Stations cycle, I let myself photograph people: musicians rehearsing. I couldn't resist the possibility to do this based off how lively the music is in Vienna today.
On a more inquisitive level, the image of a piano put on the stage of an empty theatre allowed me to explore further the relationship between an immense space which is filled with an object of much smaller proportions. The space is not empty: the light, the sounds and the ideas of the person who looks at each photograph, may find a way to align themselves with the perspectives and rigorous geometries of those architectures.
We read books without ever having to meet their authors. The media tell us about it, show us a public image and give us the illusion of knowing them. In the project The author's space, I tried to draw their portrait beyond the physical presence by photographing their most intimate space: their office.
In my series on libraries, museums and concert halls, we find ourselves in the presence of public spaces, shaped both by architects and by successive generations of works on display. Here, the space is organized by the artist for his own work.
A second axis of reflection seemed relevant to me: to confront the timelessness of places destined to endure with the ephemeral life of an office that will disappear at the same time the writer who uses it. Contemporary Israeli literature occurs in these workplaces and I have sought to fix their physical reality in time, as a way of approaching the concept of artistic inspiration.
When I was born, Israel was five years old. Almost everything around me had just been built. The cities and neighborhoods seemed to me untouched by all life and color. The clothes we wore looked like uniforms, as their faded colors did not attract the eye. As a child, I felt very dissatisfied with what I saw. I had not known anything but my most immediate environment, but I was certain that there was somewhere a colorful and rich world of diversity.
Thirty-five years later, I began a "photographic dialogue" with different forms of artistic expression envisaged in their presentation space: Oxford libraries, Florence museums and Vienna concert halls. In these places that I scrupulously made sure to empty, the trace of man and the movements of light appear as the metaphors of knowledge and creation.
I aim to explore the relationship of the object to the space around it. In the case of the museums of Florence, I was interested in this recurrent dialectic around the question of the beautiful, which is played between the exposed works and the magnificence of the architecture of the palaces. The rooms are often very spacious; some are so full of sculptures and paintings that others are astonishing because they seem empty. And each time, the natural light that I had permission to let in by opening the shutters, has come bring harmony and sense of power to these staged museums.
In most of the photographs in the series, Tali Amitai-Tabib manages to hide the laden shelves and the other details of the library, so that they are assimilated and swallowed up in the space, which becomes a kind of sacred place that silences anyone with awe who treads there; and still, the enigmatic atmosphere of the place seems to be directed outwards, to the mysterious and the visionary. This oscillation between a sense of being trapped with no exit and a structured light that creates an infinite tremor is shown to us from another library space, one that is considered to be a great achievement in Renaissance architecture: the Medici Library in Florence. The famous stairwell of this library profoundly influenced Mark Rothko's conception of "the sublime", and inspired the murals that he planned for the "Four Seasons" restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York, immediately after his return from a visit to Florence in XNUMX: "After I had been at work for some time, I realized that I was much influenced subconsciously by Michelangelo's walls in the staircase of the Medici Library in Florence. He achieved just the kind of feeling I'm after - he makes the viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the wall".
Extract from the preface of the exhibition catalog Libraries at Tel Aviv University (Genia Schreiber University Art Gallery, 2001)