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Didier Ben Loulou
Fragments, a New Jerusalem Revealed, Mark Sealy in Newsletter, Impressions Gallery, UK, 1998

There is not doubt the old city of Jerusalem is one of the most contested spaces in the world. Anyone who has visited the place cannot help but marvel not at the old city, but at the fact that the place has survived for so long given its violent history. Many photographers over the years have produced images that have attempted to sum up the various religio/political problems that have plagued, for what seems to be like an eternity, the Middle East region as a whole. In a place that is so full of narratives both from the past and the future, Ben Loulou's work has developed away from the documentary tradition producing a body of work which reveals a profound insight into the city. Ben Loulou has produced a set of dramatic ful-colour Fresson prints that tease the emotions and toy with the notion of suspense. Each photograph is dramatic in the sense that invites us to address what cannot be seen. The strength of this work lies in the fact that Ben Loulou has constructed a position that is completely uncomfortable for the viewer. In much of the work we are so close to the subject that we struggle to identify anything of personal relating to the subjects of the photographs. The fact that we have been placed so close to the subject and yet are not allowed any form of intimate contact invests Ben Loulou's work with a sense of violence and vulnerability. The sheer darkness contained within the mise en scène of Ben Loulou's project dramatically contrasts with the light that is typically seen in traditional imagery from Middle East. The shadows in Ben Loulou's work function in a similar way to the ideas which were explored in early expressionist European films where the angled positioning of the camera and the claustrophobic use of space conveyed that all is not well. This claustrophobia is what defines Ben Loulou's photographs as distinctive. This is a body of work that pulls you in. Once you are forced to face your anxieties. The defining moment in Ben Loulou's photography is not climatic. It is slow. Unnerving. Threatening. Didier Ben Loulou presents us with a soiled city which has been stained, burnt, scratched, graffitied, carved and scorched by its past. One imagines that some of the marks he has photographed have been there for hundreds of years, each mark's meaning gathering in currency as every second passed by. Ben Loulou photographs work like surgical incisions on the surface of the city. These incisions are not wide gaping cuts are like slight slashes or pierced holes that allow the viewer to peep just below the surface of the skin. Ben Loulou's incisions have a much more profound function which beg us to see past the epidermis and look not at the body, but into the body. We are never really sure who we are looking at and why. Ben loulou has taken the intense sunlight of the region and inverted it within the photographs. His use of colour has the sensibility of one who has stared long at the sun and can only now see the burned shadows etched in his mind.

Mark Sealy Director of Autograph, London July 1998

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