Wendy Ewald Talks about Representation in Her Photographic work
On Feb. 27, Wendy Ewald, one of the photographers of “This Place,” visited Skidmore College as a part of the Dunkerley Dialogue series. The dialogue was moderated by Crystal Dea Moore, the Interim Dean of Faculty, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and professor of Social Work at Skidmore College. The dialogue mostly focused on discussing Ewald’s diverse photography experiences, as well as the techniques and practices she utilized in This Place, and beyond.
Ewald used a unique photography practice to accomplish her project, which, in short, was teaching children how to take pictures of their surroundings. Alongside the children, she was able to peer through the unique lenses through which they see their families, schools, and, at large, their communities.
For Ewald, the process of photography is important, and while she does not go into the technicalities of photography — like composition or exposure — with the children she teaches, she said that in each situation, she has had to adapt to the needs of children and the larger geographical and cultural context.
In one of Ewald’s projects in rural India, she worked with children who had never seen a photograph before. She had to work at their pace to understand what they truly wanted to capture — which were pictures of the ancient Indian gods. They used a camera in a very different way from what she was used to. In This Place, she used a digital camera for the first time, and had to both adapt to the different equipment and teach the children at the same time.
The main focus of the dialogue was contested spaces, and how to navigate these particular places as an outsider. Ewald mentions that the way in which she came to terms with her status as an “outsider” was by giving away the camera to the children, who often did not possess much power in society. Thus, the camera itself becomes a tool of expression, and a new way in which the children were able to relate to their communities. “When I take pictures, I am in there,” Wendy articulated. “I have something to offer.” The children in Ewald’s pictures are creating their own narratives and telling personal stories.
However, it is also important to discuss that while Ewald’s rich discussion about her diverse experiences throughout the world gave a full picture of her work, the dialogue might have contributed more to the students if she focused further on her special experience during This Place. Ewald’s pictures are exceptionally fascinating because they capture the true essence of life in diverse communities in Israel and the West Bank. Hearing more about her interactions with children and their families could have made the conversation more relatable to the exhibition, while adding to the scholarly element of it too.
After the dialogue, I chatted briefly with Ewald about the importance of representation and her experience working with Jews, Christians, and Muslims. She talked specifically about her experience in Hebron, a Palestinian city with a significant number of Israeli settlements. In the beginning of her project, in the city, she had difficulty communicating her ideas to the children because they mostly wanted to take photographs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than other aspects of their lives — such as their family and school. Through understanding their space, she was able to direct them slowly to taking pictures of their lives outside of the violence and the conflict.
The Dunkerley dialogue with photographer Ewald and Dea Moore gave an important insight into how photography can become a powerful tool of expression. Children from extremely diverse communities are able to create a unique space for themselves, in which their perception becomes the key to This Place.
All pictures were taken by Sanjna Selva