A different Jerusalem: With no Temple Mount, Holy Places or panoramic view. Not of gold, not belonging to the Prophets, a Jerusalem without David, Jesus, or Mohammad. It is a different Jerusalem. A most intimate Jerusalem, Jerusalem which stresses the "je", the "I" (in French), and perchance skeptic as as the- "salem", the peace. A Jerusalem made of human fragments and shadows. Didier Ben Loulou's camera does not look up in search for a sublime light and does not anticipate the descending of the "Celestial Jerusalem". Prone, here and now, inside the earthly Jerusalem, his camera gazes closely at the head of the dead fish in the market- street: not to symbolize Jesuits fish, but to leave us in the enigmatic, "Uncanny" (Unheimliche) lucking inside the familiar. This is Jerusalem's sub-consciousness. For in between the fish corpse and the Arab boy behind it prevails darkness. That and the covenant of the victim make a very secret of Ben Loulou's Jerusalem.
See how the photographer approaches the body of the boy as much as he approaches the body of the fish. As if attempting to unfold some secret. A secret lies also in the completion of colour and shadow; in the collision of the blouse's scorching red with the surrounding black and disastrous dissension of these two significant shades. The camera moves closer still. It wishes to cross the boundary, to make way into the unseen, into the darkness or the confusion. Extreme close-up on another boy's head, his forehead dim in the foreground of the frame, the backdrop splatters in an "explosion" of peeling wall-segments, graphite scraps and paint-remnants. Ben Loulou's camera discovers the seed of disaster in the invisible of Jerusalem. Like the fragment of an aging hand (the eye of both the artist and the viewer is still blind to the entire body) which is only a pretext for a visual calamity of scribbles, stains and rust storming into a dance of visual clatter, not to say chaos.
Thus the figure (the "figuration") is made whole through an "abstract expressionism" of Jerusalem, through an alliance of storm and stillness, through a shivering rendez-vous of positive and negative and prowling holocaust. A foot in flight; Ben Loulou's camera typically, approaches the human, lowers down, captures the blurred body-fragment as it slips away from the darkness and the old stones. This constant obfuscation of the human confirms the tone, and more precisely, the face of the stone, its visage: a perforated , worn-out stone, weary of time and trouble: a stone that has witnessed (and shall yet witness) many flights. No doubt: Ben Loulou nearly penetrates the photographed human body (he knows Jerusalem is human above all). Yet, deciphering the human is not in the human but beyond him, in the stone. His obstinate proximity to the minutiae of the human parts constantly forms image and shadow on the wall, on the rock, on the mountain. The answer to the human (in the repetitive scorching red), the answer to the subject, is written in the object. That which has been united in the human is being dismantled in the object. Moreover: look at the walls, emerging from beyond the human-shadows: no lyricism of stains and lines there, only scrolls of aggression.
Indeed, this is Ben Loulou's Jerusalem: prudent, bitter, cruel, a retort to Yehuda Halevi's "Beautiful Land, Delight of the world, City of Kings*". It is a Jerusalem of ugliness, dirt, rot and neglect, which begets - through the alchemy of shadows and the unique blend of (non- majestic) human fragments - a new poetry, a new beauty, a beauty out of the death. And thus, in the midst of the blindness that sees the restrained Jerusalem calamity, Ben Loulou is somewhat optimistic: the destroying human is also the human (the artist, at least) who redeems the destruction. And slowly, the children's shadows unite with the abstract calligraphy scribbled on the walls, which seems to be turning into a child's language along the Klee-Dubuffet tradition, retaining some "joie de vivre" in the midst of the chaos. Indeed the children make the majority of Ben Loulou's heroes. See, in darkness, the silhouette of the skipping girl on the asphalt, and how the green it breeds, out of hostile environment, allies with the red of the blouse to make a harmony of contrasts. Or - in a different photograph - a rusting door makes the green into backdrop of another child's silhouette. Shall we say: in spite of everything, art is a deliverance from the darkness and the chaotic? Better say: it is an effort toward a deliverance. We have not forgotten the elderly ones, the bruised ones, staring at is out of the photographs: their eye wounded, their look - grim.
Didier Ben Loulou photographs mainly in the Old City of Jerusalem, at the heart of the conflict. The fragment of the head, of an arm etc., which burst onto the planes of wall and pavement, belong to Arabs of the Muslim Quarter. But the photographer's gaze is not interested in the ethnic, or in the internecine tension for the matter. The oriental darkness (darkness of the "other") goes well with the world of shadows. And it is here, in the Muslim Quarter, that he is to find in abundance the lime and plaster wounds and bruises - wounds of time and wall's skin-like layers originating in human "writing" and nature "writing" (matter disintegration).
Here, indeed, lies the key to Ben Loulou's photography: His camera breaks through the secret signified of Jerusalem. There, at the center, at the heart of the conflict, in the midst of the Promise-Site and Judgement Day, his camera exposes the signified as an unresolved tension between blindness (shadow, darkness) and "writing" (écriture). The wall writing, impenetrable and blocking, retrieves the signified onto the level of the signifiers (meaning , it refuses to disclose its secret), and these wall-signifiers are chaotic, hard, resisting any clarification. Writing upon writing, an eternal palimpsest* named Jerusalem. The scraps of burnt books (Genizah?) likewise unite the "writing" with the end. And so, even when the photographer has captured the remnants of Jewish ceremony in his camera, his gaze is inhabited by fire, soot and candle remains. The chaos of the wall "writing" has been converted into the chaos of the destroying fire. Alternatively, here is another victim - a dead chicken's leg - or maybe it is another expiation. Indeed, Ben Loulou "writing" of Jerusalem says "ruins" or "on the way to the ruin" time again. It utters trouble and rapture to the human fragments that pass it by (including to those young of age), even when it tries to deduce some hope out of the rigorous journey.
And when the photographic composition reverses, and the photograph's foreground is imprisoned in the cruel disintegration of the stone (while the human silhouette retreats to the background), Ben Loulou "writing" of Jerusalem seems clearer than ever. The stone is the text-plane and the text is the footprints of the matter's decomposition, footprints of nameless witnesses (the Quarter-residents? pilgrims?) making their signs tombstones in this mournful Jerusalem existence. Jerusalem as a scroll, and that scroll is named "Lamentation".
Hence, is it a dove or knife? Let us not lead astray: Ben Loulou's dove is shaded, while the knife is bright and shining. For Ben Loulou's Jerusalem begets its different beauty out of the horror, the chaos and the mourning. Stones are monuments, memories of death and pain. Accordingly, a drifting bone or a piece of animal's skull, or a fallen monument on the Olives Mountain, or a thorn field and so on - they, too, are "writing" the morbid and the apocalyptic in this Jerusalem. Therefore, red spots on a rock may look like a bloodstained altar; a blessing hand on a boy's head, facing a rock on a slope, may evoke, in the heart of spectator, the memory of Abraham's hand as he sacrifices his son. Yet a different hand, a dark one, touches the neck of a boy, evil in its store. And wherever humans are exposed a bit more, in these revealing-concealing photographs, they are always bruised and beaten. No, there is no love in this in Jerusalem, no mercy, no salvation. It is a city whose destruction is inscribed on its face: A city of anxiety and morn, through which the photographer - the artist- walks and spreads a touch of grace.