In looking at a photograph, should we ask what was it like to be there? Or should we ask what was it like to be there with a camera? Too often the act of taking a photograph is overshadowed by the events depicted, which leads us to forget the partiality that photography often depends on and can never escape.
The woman in the fur coat and the photographer of this image are engaged in nearly the same act. How can we judge one without judging the other? To judge the woman, we would have to know what she is filming. I am tempted to think that a violent act is being committed outside the frame, but it could just as easily be a parade or a peaceful political demonstration. It is easy to see the woman in the fur coat as representing economic inequality and the ignorance of the haves, which leads to the exoticization of the have-nots. What could we possibly learn about the world through the lens of a woman in a fur coat?
This photograph by Ethan Eisenberg, entitled Israel 2000, was included in Documents and Dreams, an exhibition mounted recently in Vancouver by the photography collective Narrative 360. In taking a picture of the woman in the fur coat, Eisenberg has implicated himself in the act of photography. His photograph is keenly aware that it is a photograph, as is the famous photograph New York City, 1966, a picture taken by Lee Friedlander of his own shadow cast on the back of a woman in a fur coat. In Israel 2000, Eisenberg continues Friedlander’s conversation about the appropriation of images. How could we know, in construing Friedlander’s woman in a fur coat as an artistically passive bourgeois, that when she turned around, she too would be holding a camera?