- Gilad Ophir

... In as much as the present is perceived as a falsifying counterfeit, the past is grasped as authentic; that which has ostensibly been distorted, some "true" origin, something originary - innocent by nature and straightforward in orientation, yet-uncontaminated by the artificiality that sterilizes the 'natural' of its naturality.
- Moshe Zuckermann, On the Fabrication of Israeliness (1)

Pictures become a kind of writing as soon as they are meaningful: like writing, they call for a lexis.
- Roland Barthes, Mythologies (2)

Israel Roly Netiv's photographs do not readily fall into a distinctive photographic genre, yet they attest to a well intended photography which assimilates the photographic histories and strata that we as artists have frequently observed. The power of his photographs stems from the observation of the eyes that study the pictures, the exhibitions, the books, the transparencies that were projected on countless walls; from the indication of the qualities of light, color, the various materials and themes. Roly Netiv's photographs bathe in light, but his gaze surrenders pain.

I observe the flags which Roly has been photographing regularly for more than two years now, but most of all I perceive how he photographs. His photographs contain a greater totality, beyond the mere preoccupation with flags. His photographs are rooted in the greater context of photography - the frame offered by photography makes for the simultaneous existence of the temporal and spatial. The image's comprehensibility draws on both these axes which enable transparent, light groping in order to fathom the photographer's concerns via their intersection: the temporal, which refers to issues that range from the personal to contemporary society and life, and the spatial, which relates to real, physical places. Netiv's camera stares, fixing a firm, decisive gaze at its subjects; his gaze carries with it a non-voyeuristic consciousness of the presence and physicality of the visible, but also something pertaining to the role of photography (and the photographer), which indicates the reading of a meaning inherent in the public visual sphere.

Roly looks forward and back, holding onto a thread that leads him to places within the scope of vision, places which at any event we tend to regard as excesses of blurred information. He photographs his flags everywhere: intact, torn, fluttering upright or wrapped around a pole; the torn, frayed flag is as whole as the proudly intact flag waving at masthead. A flag is a flag wherever you encounter it.

The photographs range from a minimalist perception to surplus and excessive fullness. The works define their field through this extensive, saturated output. Thus the gap between the current factual quality familiar through identification of the place and time, and the paradigm of representation, becomes evident. The flags' depiction is reminiscent of the use of similar linguistic elements, for the prosaic, immediate content of the individual photograph is expropriated in favor of a greater, disconcerting register that draws one's attention. The representation is also an act of alienation which enables the photograph to become a picture; the lengthier the observation, the more conscious we become of the image's estrangement and of the different reality it assumes.

In his essay "La Jetée: Regarding the Gaze," philosopher Eli Friedlander discusses Chris Marker's film The Jetty: "The work of art answers hidden fantasies, structures a certain gaze, or even constitutes the subjectivity viewing it." (3) In light of these insights, I consider how to read meaning into of the works before me. My observation is conditioned by the gaze returned from the work - the gaze that constitutes my vision, the way in which the photograph "looks back" at me. The meaning is examined here as a part of certain patterns: aesthetic, political, and social. The photograph's ability to construct meaning is dependent on these paradigms, namely - on the social and philosophical contexts, but also on the circumstances of the work's presentation.

In his book Mythologies Roland Barthes maintains that "pictures, to be sure, are more imperative than writing, they impose meaning at one stroke, without analysing or diluting it." (4) In his photographs, Netiv presents visual facts, the whimsical presence of the flag as decoration in the landscape or as a national fetish. The multiplicity reinforces the phenomenon of flagish colonialism recurring in his photographs. This repetition is aimed not only at indicating the reproductive act taking place in the landscape; reproduction in its original sense as trailblazing is absent here, but the representations of a numbing, comfortable, monotonous presence, manifested in the flag's countless variations, are clearly present. The declarative, cultural reflex is rooted in some perception of a mythical past recurring mainly in order to perpetuate itself. The photograph, however, doesn't lie. Even when it points at the myth, perhaps precisely at that moment, through Netiv's direct gaze, the non-romantic attitude to the flag in space is exposed, as an act of territorial definition performed by human beings (as well as animals) in order to mark their identity and define metaphorical and real boundaries. Perhaps it is in this that the image "imposes its meaning at one stroke" in the dual space which it opens up between the visual and the symbolical power of the representation and local ontological existence.

The photograph simultaneously reveals and conceals - exposure as a condition of being overt and unhidden. But what is ostensibly invisible to us is in fact Netiv's irony-free, non-cynical attraction to the local landscape (the landscapes of the country's North in which he often travels) and the manifestations of the flag. Netiv's relationship with the landscape and the flag is ambivalent and emotional, even impulsive: one may wonder whether he lets the world speak from within itself, (5) to read various things therein, such as ambivalence and wonderment regarding the flag's "psychic" condition, displaying a desire to gather all its possible manifestations. It is as though Netiv clears the ground of alienated, scattered, forgotten flags. Perhaps that passion is the true motivation behind the photographic act, far beyond the indexical Benjaminesque flaneurism within the boundaries of either the built-up or the open landscape.

"The country is a foreign land," writes Georges Perec in Species of Spaces. (6) Netiv's photographs conceal beauty and emotion alongside a unique discussion of the flag's polemic visibility and the emotional polarity it invokes through questions of belonging and identification with the intricate pictorial landscape revealed in the works.

- Gilad Ophir



(1) Moshe Zuckermann, On the Fabrication of Israeliness: Myths and Ideologies in a Society at Conflict (Tel Aviv: Resling, 2001), p. 179 [Hebrew].

(2) Roland Barthes, Mythologies , trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), p. 110.

(3) Eli Friedlander,"La Jetée: Regarding the Gaze," Boundary 2: An International Journal of Literature and Culture 28, no. 1 (2001): 75-90.

(4) Barthes, Mythologies (n. 2), p. 110.

(5) Friedlander,"La Jetée: Regarding the Gaze" (n. 3).

(6) Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, trans. John Sturrock (New York: Penguin, 1997 [1974]), p. 68.

Back to FLAGS >

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