Finding New Ways To Tell The Visual Story Of The Middle East

By Tanya Habjouqa (NOOR photographer)


The world is oversaturated with images, available at lightening speed, easily discarded. We take them for granted, perhaps because of their ubiquity. When working in journalism in a place that is often over saturated and hyper narrated like Israel/Palestine, a visual fatigue can even affect the photographer, not just the viewer. 


On a recent assignment for a French daily, I took a portrait of a renowned young Palestinian whose face graced newspapers around the world when she was arrested a few years ago for slapping an Israeli soldier who’d wounded her cousin. Her young cousin, a university media student, watched every move, asking if the photos meant anything. Had photojournalism failed Palestinians? There was no shortage of raw, brilliant images of the frontline of loss and dispossession but…. so what? What became of it? My exhaustion and existential crisis with photography prompted much reflection and experimentation over the last few years. 

Documentary photography and the essence of photojournalism itself is engaged in uncomfortable discussions of representation and top-down delivered truths. In some ways, it has never been a better climate to create, and explore new paths to leaving a deeper imprint of the story you are telling, fostering an immersive experience. I could not shake the feeling that a well-sequenced 12-image photo essay fell flat of what I was trying to narrate.  In 2017, I began working immersively, imagining myself as a crow flying gathering “essences” to carry back took my virtual keepsake box to build the nest of the narrative.


Increasingly, I read image as text, and experience text as an image…sounds, whispering pieces of paper, gifs, and video. The essence that renders an imprint to the story is a clue and worth exploring new platforms. 


While covering the Syrian refugee exodus, that I fundamentally first questioned the dimished impact of traditional journalism. I turned to intimate shared whatsapp messages from father’s who safely made the journey to Europe, singing lullabies exhausted mothers would play to their crying babies. I began to work in multimedia and across multiplatform, collaborating with the “protagonists” and experimenting with new forms of expression. My multiple collaborations with World Crunch (and later FotoinMotion) was all about pushing the visual narrative experience. Leaving traces, imprints, clues…. to feel the story differently. With stereographic photography, it allowed me to innovate on the experience of the overly saturated visuals of Israel/Palestine, ironically with a technique that first came to illustrate the “Holy Land” in the 20th century.  I brought the technique to my exhibit at Breda Festival, my project, the Sacred Space Odyssey, exploring the intersection of Palestinian and Israeli experiences overlapping occupation, violence and surveillance, pivoted by the poetry of everyday life.  I wanted to convey a gripping, absurd road trip into the places where sacred and profane define land and lives, and traditional photography alone was not going to do it. 


I wanted an installation of sound and visual experiences as a wormhole, moving the viewer from the bible to the Nakba to all sorts of imagined futures. The intended primary installation of stereographs was disrupted due to Covid, as utilizing Google Glass was prohibited. But the work continues. I used a 3D imaging camera specifically designed for me by Nikon for NOOR, a high-end digital “stereograph” camera, enabling me to create to 3D surreal images.



 I began experiments in February, working with an EU technical team will support me in the 3D imaging for this experiment and guide me into creating a mobile output to view these images.


For future exhibits post Covid, the proposed installation will be set in a 3m x 3m darkroom, with a table in the center of it. I will create a box, which would look like an old holy bible, where I will lay a Google Cardboard viewer with a smartphone inside. The viewer will have to go to the table open the book, and find instructions and the google cardboard, where they’ll be able to view the experimental images. 


We will utilize the Google Cardboard app, engaging the viewer into an augmented reality, merging immersive elements and offering the viewer a palpable glimpse into the Sacred Space Odyssey.


I utilize my access to this modern stereography by subverting both the historical “Holy Land” stereography. (Such as the below illustration). The next stage will be to explore methodologies of bringing stereography to an online experience.


Finding ways to etch an experience closer to the lived moment will bring more depth and sense of “interacting” with the news. This has huge potential for the photojournalism industry. In this case, its revisiting the history of historical photographic techniques and historical representations and innovating, saying something new.




The Google Cardboard viewer




Example of a classic stereoscopic image from Jerusalem



Israeli military watch tower, field of poppies, Occupied West Bank. 2020



Trees of Ein Hijleh, a Palestinian Christian village forcibly depopulated by Israel in 1967


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