Good fences make good neighbours people say but in reality they usually make real enemies. Peace starts where walls fall and not where they are erected – the Berlin Wall is the best proof for that says photographer Kai Wiedenhöfer who is based in the German capital. Between 2003 and 2018 he made ten journeys to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to document fences, walls and checkpoints of the separation barrier which the Israeli governments is still building.
From his experience of photographing the Israeli – Palestinian conflict over tree decades, the barrier worsens the problems in the Holy Land. The wall itself cements the assumed righteousness of the Israelis and is an aggression against the Palestinians who are caged in and become more frustrated. The paradox of the wall: It enhances the violence is supposed to curb. That creates the necessity for more policing and fortification – nonetheless the wall is regarded as a guardian of order, peace and stability.
In 1989 Kai Wiedenhöfer photographed the fall of the Berlin Wall in his hometown, and was deeply moved by this experience of history unfolding. At the time, Wiedenhöfer, like many, believed this event would mark the end of walls being employed as political tools and dismissed them as anachronistic instruments of division. Thirty years later, history has proved us wrong; indeed walls have enjoyed a barbaric renaissance. Border barriers have been erected in the US, Europe, and the Middle East in the aftermath of political, economic, religious and ethnic conflicts.
Wiedenhöfer has documented walls in Belfast, Ceuta and Melilla, Baghdad, Israel & the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the American-Mexican border, Cyprus, Korea, the Greek-Macedonian border, United Kingdom – France as well as the remains of the Iron Curtain. CONFRONTIER presents Wiedenhöfer’s comprehensive ongoing project and evidences his conviction that walls are not solutions to today’s political and economic problems, but proof of human weakness, error and our inability to communicate with one another.
It is a paradox of war
that the injury of a single person
makes the biggest impression on us;
the one whose face we can see,
the one whose name and fate
we can actually recall.
The bigger the number of the victims
the less we are touched emotionally.
In 2014 and 2015 Kai Wiedenhöfer photographed for five months Syrian war wounded. Currently every weak 6 000 Syrians are injured. Syrian Collateral depicts forty of them in calm portraits which are complemented by long captions describing in detail each injureds fate. The portraits are combined with large panoramic landscapes of destroyed Syrian cities mostly Kobane. The injured and panoramas are interrupted by double paged fact sheets which provided the reader with basic figures about the damage which is done to Syria. For example the destruction of 2,1 million homes. Syrian Collateral is a quiet compendium of the most horrific conflict in our time.
Sundus Hawarna, 11 lost her eye and her whole family in a barrel bomb explosion in Jasim southern Syria. She one of more than one million Syrians who were wounded in the Syrian civil war which started in spring 2011.
Kai Wiedenhöfer took portraits of forty Syrian war wounded in towns, villages and refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon between spring 2014 and 2015. By showing the genuine aftermath of this war it is his intention to raise support for people who are really in need. The media are often bashing out the numbers of the dead on a daily base but mostly forget about the injured. For them the war will never end. They will have to endure their injuries till the end of theirs lifes.
Looking back retrospectively in the cold light of the day the horrors of war become more evident. The reality is so gruesome that the media tries to prevent us from seeing it on so called ethical reasons. But what and whose ethics are these? Instead of preventing war and suffering, what this actually does is help to unleash the next war by making it more palatable to an unknowing public.
This project aims to show the suffering of the civilian population in a modern war. The defiance of international law has become a petty offense. The international community is slow to react and the benefits which resulted from WWII in the form of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions are continuously weakened.
For more than 20 years Kai Wiedenhöfer has been taking photographs in the Middle East, a place where many journalists and photographers have covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet Wiedenhöfer is unique in that he concentrates exclusively on Gaza, and often remains there for extended time to take photos long after the media has moved onto more ‘pressing’ news stories. Even in 2009 after the offensive of the Israeli army, Wiedenhöfer was in Gaza. During this time he took disturbingly quiet, almost repetitive pictures of the bleak aftermath of the war that form The Book of Destruction. Wiedenhöfer´s images of crumbling ruins and maimed civilians are a powerful landscape of disquiet and destruction.
For more than ten years, from 1990 to 2001, Kai Wiedenhöfer lived and photographed
in the Israeli-occupied territories. He has learnt the Arabic language, taken a close look at the Middle East, and thoroughly tried to understand the mentality of its inhabitants.
It wasn‘t long before the Palestinians called him Habib al-Schaab, friend of the people. They opened up toward him, and allowed him to gain an insight into a world, which generally is reported about in stereotypes.
Kai Wiedenhöfer‘s photographs live on his closeness toward the human beings depicted. They are telling about the everyday life of children, women and men, the victims and warriors of the Intifada, the dogged fight against the occupation. Perfect Peace expresses the hopes and disappointments in a region which only will be finding peace through mutual understanding.
“Over a nine meter wall you cannot shake hands,” said a Palestinian pensioner who lives in the shadow of the Separation Barrier currently being built by Israel.
Since October 2003, photographer Kai Wiedenhöfer, who has been documenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for more than a decade, has been meeting with inhabitants of the Occupied Palestinian Territories living in the path of the barrier. Every six months, he returned to the territories to document the construction of the 650 kilometers of walls, fences, ditches and earth mounds, which form the border between the State of Israel and a future Palestinian entity.
This time, he has chosen to portray the conflict with a 6 x 17 cm panoramic camera, producing a series of color and black and white photographs which depict the wall and fragments of life in its shadow.
In 1989, the Berlin-based photographer documented the fall of the wall in his own city. Recent German history has convinced Wiedenhöfer that separation barriers offer no solutions to political conflict.