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Ad van Denderen, Stone

Socrates: Welcome to our podcast series “How Photography will Save the World”. Today, we have a special guest, Ad van Denderen, introducing his book “Stone”.
Ad, for almost 25 years, you have been photographing daily life in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Can you tell us something about your work?

Ad van Denderen: Sure, Socrates. “Stone” is a photographic exploration of the complex and precarious situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The book is divided into two parts, one in black and white and the other in colour. Each piece captures a different perspective on the situation in the region. I originally started working in black and white, in a classical, direct reportage style. However, after about 15 years, I switched to colour and adopted a more detached, conceptual and monumental photographic style.

Through my work, I’ve been able to capture the complexities and precariousness of life in this region. I believe my work provides a nuanced perspective on the cultural and political issues in this part of the world. The book extensively uses the metaphor of stone throughout, as it is the defining element of the landscape in the region and is used in various ways, from building houses to creating barriers or throwing them as weapons.
It can be a weapon or an obstacle, but it also offers shelter.

Socrates: Fascinating. Can you tell us more about your personal experiences that led you to realize your project?

Ad: Sure, I started working on the book in the 1990s after I revisited Beit Yanei.
This was a small community where I had spent some time in the 1960s. Being in Beit Yanei in the 1960s was an extraordinary experience for me. It was a small cooperative agricultural community made up of Jewish families who had arrived in Israel after the Holocaust. They were full of optimism and had high hopes for building a new future. I became part of that community and witnessed the close relationship between Palestinians and Israelis working side by side on the land. There was hardly any animosity then, and it was a unique experience I will never forget.

But when I returned in 2005, I found that little was left of the social cohesion of the past. The cooperative had seen its best days, and selfishness, religion, and capitalism had driven a wedge into the solidarity of the small community. Wars, suicide attacks, fear, and distrust had done the rest. This was when I realized that I had to start working on a new project, a photographic exploration of the changes that had occurred in the region over the last 25 years.

Socrates: Ad, can you tell us more about the significance of the stone metaphor in your work?

Ad: As I mentioned earlier, stones are a powerful symbol in this part of the world: settlers use them to build their settlements, the Israeli army to make the barrier that separates the West Bank; the Palestinians throw at the soldiers during the intifada, the religious Jews to leave their prayers at the Western Wall. In a chapter, I depict a military strategy called ‘reverse geometry’ studied later by Eyal Weizman. But stones are also a fundamental part of building their houses, to dream of a safe life. To a significant degree, stone defines landscape and soil hydrology.

Socrates: It sounds like a compelling and thought-provoking book. I look forward to reading it.

Ad: Thank you, Socrates. I hope it will help people understand the situation’s complexity and the different perspectives that can be found in the region.

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