French-born Frederic Brenner is one of those photographers whose images brand themselves upon you.
Many of us came to know ourselves and Jewry today through his “Diaspora” project, which spanned 25 years and 40 countries. His 1994 shot of citizens in Billings, Montana, each carrying a menorah, is unforgettable. Similarly, “Brenda’s Jewish Cooking Class” (Johannesburg, 2001), with the phrase, “Let me teach your maid Jewish cooking” at its center, is a remarkable rebuke to all of us South African Jews.
“This Place” is a monumental project that includes 12 photographers, each of whom explores Israel and the West Bank. Here, as Moshe Halbertal writes, "the maps of the sacred overlap, compete and ultimately exclude each other."
Brenner’s contribution to “This Place” is now on view at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, “An Archeology of Fear and Desire." A photographic book of the same title was just published by Mack.
Brenner's “Tel Aviv” captures that extraordinary moment when the cars stop, people stand on freeways, heads bowed, and the sirens wail on Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day. A portrait of three ultra-Orthodox men at Ben Gurion Airport, their faces hooded in black cloth, immediately evoked women in burkas for me. The exhibit is lean on captions as Brenner wants viewers to work, as “there are no resolutions.” However Brenner has commented that the hoods are worn to prevent the men from seeing that which they should not see.
These images pose challenges. As Brenner writes, “It is an essay about the fiction of identity and the terror of not having an identity… Will we have the courage to be unfaithful to the cultures that have nourished us, to break our own idols?”
Another extraordinarily evocative portrait is of two bearded gay men planted amidst huge cacti. Brenner is playing with love, protectiveness, threats and the stereotype of the “sabra."
The complete “This Place” exhibit will open at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in February 2016. In the interim, stunning books by each of the 12 photographers are on display.
“Frederic Brenner: An Archeology of Fear and Desire” is on view at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, Suite 1406, through July 3.
Sharon Anstey is a writer and business consultant.