Biography

Rosalind Fox Solomon was born in Highland Park, Illinois in 1930 and currently lives in New York City. She examines relationships and survival through portraits and ritual. The deep connection between her acquaintance with rejection, struggle and sorrow is evident in her imagery and poetry. She has worked extensively in the American South and in New York; Ancash, Peru and Kolkata, India.

Solomon’s photographs are in the collections of over 50 museums and her work has been shown in nearly 30 solo exhibitions and 100 group exhibitions. John Szarkowski chose 50 of her pictures for MoMA’s permanent collection, followed by her solo MoMA exhibition, “Rosalind Solomon, Ritual”.

She is the recipient of numerous honors, including fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Society of Indian Studies. Her books include Chapalingas and Polish Shadow (Steidl); THEM and Got to Go (MACK).

“I wander and connect as best I can. I saw and felt… informed by the unexpected.”

Biography

Rosalind Fox Solomon was born in Highland Park, Illinois in 1930 and currently lives in New York City. She examines relationships and survival through portraits and ritual. The deep connection between her acquaintance with rejection, struggle and sorrow is evident in her imagery and poetry. She has worked extensively in the American South and in New York; Ancash, Peru and Kolkata, India.

Solomon’s photographs are in the collections of over 50 museums and her work has been shown in nearly 30 solo exhibitions and 100 group exhibitions. John Szarkowski chose 50 of her pictures for MoMA’s permanent collection, followed by her solo MoMA exhibition, “Rosalind Solomon, Ritual”.

She is the recipient of numerous honors, including fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Society of Indian Studies. Her books include Chapalingas and Polish Shadow (Steidl); THEM and Got to Go (MACK).

Rosalind Fox Solomon

THEM

Rosalind Fox Solomon spent five months in Israel and the West Bank during 2010–11, working in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nahariya, Bethlehem and Jenin. Travelling by local bus along with commuter workers, she photographed Jewish teenagers at Purim, Christians at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Ghanaian pilgrims at the Mount of Olives. The photographs contain numerous interwoven narratives. Her photographs are informed by an acute sensitivity to lives conditioned by race and religion, ethnicity and location. “In my monograph, THEM, I wanted to express the chaos and pressure that was around me”. Punctuating the images are fragments of text – background conversations, recorded in Solomon’s journal; texts that reveal the humanity of each person photographed, a window onto lives conditioned by violence and uncertainty.

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Rosalind Fox Solomon in conversation with Charlotte Cotton

Summer 2014

CC: I want to start by asking you how you first heard about the project?
RS: Frédéric Brenner got in touch with me and invited me to be part of the project. I was intrigued, but had some initial reservations.

CC: And were your reservations about the project, and about working within a group commission, or were you more generally wary about the idea of photographing in Israel and the West Bank?
RS: Before I decided to take the commission, I wanted to be sure that I would have freedom to work in my own way. During the exploratory trip in August 2010, I took two pictures that ended up in my final edit.

CC: Which pictures are these?
RS: One is the car and the wall. The other is the man with a Star of David tattoo. It was just such a symbolic, amazing picture. It offered itself to me. I was walking on a public beach, looking at the tattoos people had. That’s how that picture happened. When I came back to New York from the region, I printed some of the pictures I had taken and saw that I had something. I’ve made so many edits of my work for this project – I have never worked so hard on editing and sequencing. I really wanted it to express the chaos and pressure that was around me.

CC: Would you say that the photographs convey an emotional journey rather than a depiction of Israel and the West Bank?
RS: The emotional journey is part of the depiction. I was emotionally affected by the cultural and political conflicts. My pictures did not just come out of the camera; they came out of my gut. Every day that I spent there, I was tense and emotionally wired. These things happen; in South Africa I got shingles. You can’t live in that kind of environment without being affected by tension and stress. I felt the chaos. Maybe some of that transmits through my pictures.

CC: In what situations were you photographing people in Israel and Palestine?
RS: I photographed a variety of people who have roots in this place whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. I photographed couples and families at home – Israelis and Palestinians. I photographed at Purim and Passover. I photographed pilgrims at Christmas in Bethlehem and the Palestinian family that hosted me. I photographed pilgrims at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City; a Palm Sunday procession at the Mount of Olives and an Israeli guide with Ghanian pilgrims. I photographed the celebration of some members of a Sierra Leone community that came to Israel as construction workers more than twenty years ago and I photographed undocumented Eritreans in south Tel Aviv. I photographed soldiers on Israel Memorial Day on the Mount of Olives. I photographed at the Jalameh Checkpoint after the tragic murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis, director of the Jenin Freedom Theatre in Jenin. Many of my successful pictures were taken of people as they participated in public ritual.

I photographed a variety of people who have roots in this place whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.

CC: Did you cast people on the streets?
RS: No. I decided to photograph anyone who allowed me the time to shoot. When I am photographing, I talk as little as possible. I approached this project in the same way as I did in Portraits in the Time of Aids (1987–88) and my projects in Zimbabwe and South Africa. The emotional components were similar. The unifying element in each project is a series of portraits, but in each situation I also kept journals. I wanted to reveal the humanity of every person I photographed. One person led to another.

CC: Do you think that the photographs that you created are a portrayal of your personal journey in Israel and the West Bank?
RS: My personal conflicts and responses are part of whatever I do as an artist. My own history is a point of reference when I seek to understand the factors that influence others. In Israel and the West Bank those factors included location, race and religion. These determine where people live, how they are treated and their expectations for the future. I draw on all of my resources as I get in touch with the culture that is around me. This was a particularly loaded situation. Often I felt this in the interaction between me and the people I photographed. Specifically, I convey this visually through a picture I took at the Jamaleh Checkpoint. I photographed events around the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis, the son of a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father, as his casket passed from Jenin on the West Bank to Haifa in Israel for his funeral. Through my portraits, I responded to the people I met on an individual basis, trying to reach and understand their souls through mine.

“I wanted to reveal the humanity of every person I photographed. One person led to another.”

CC: Do you use notebooks while you are working on a project?
RS: Yes, I use notebooks for my calendar and itineraries and I keep sporadic journals.

CC: And some of the texts that are in the book of this project are drawn from your journals?
RS: For THEM, I repeated the process that I used in my monograph, Chapalingas, extracting some texts from journals and memories. My texts for THEM often came from fragments of conversations that stayed with me, sometimes amused and surprised me, but more often disturbed and frightened me.

CC: How long did you spend in the region?
RS: I spent a total of five months during four trips in 2010 and 2011.

CC: Were you spending time just looking, when you didn’t have your camera with you?
RS: Not consciously. I needed a little time without my camera to read and think, but I wore my photo vest constantly because it was organised like a space ship, with all of my professional and personal needs.

CC: How did you travel around?
RS: I used commuter shuttle buses to travel between cities. These buses are used mostly by workers. It was economical and interesting. It provided me with very human contact.

“At night, I recorded my film data, made notes about the day, and read the newspaper before going to sleep.”

CC: And what was your routine like?
RS: Monastic. I would get up, do my work, go to bed. That’s how it was. Over five months, I worked with seven assistants – some for a few days; some for a week; others for a month. Whoever was helping me on a particular day would arrive at 9am to pick up my tripod and camera bag. I would have a plan for the day, so that I could put one foot in front of another. Whether in Bethlehem, Jenin, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, often I had appointments to visit and photograph individuals and families. At night, I recorded my film data, made notes about the day, and read the newspaper before going to sleep.

CC: Could you tell me more about the editing process?
RS: Essentially I looked for the best images. I went through my contact sheets several times. I needed lots of time to make sense of what I had. I edited out many pictures that I chose initially. My hope was to choose images that would be strong in the context of all my work.

CC: In terms of what constitutes the right tonalities, what would you say that you are seeking in your final prints?
RS: The print is the picture. I learned to see in my own way. Taking the picture is one step of the process. The printing of a picture can imbue it with stronger emotional presence. I just know when it’s right. The exhibition format required me to print with tonalities that interrelate. The realisation of each image depends on the mood and feeling that I want to express.

THEM Excerpts from a Performance on September 9th, 2014.