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Didier Ben Loulou
Mark Sealy, European Photography #67, Germany, Summer 2000
There is no doubt the old city of Jerusalem is one of the most contested space in the world. Anyone who has visited the place, especially if you visit for no other reason than curiosity, cannot help but marvel, not at the old city, but by the fact that the place has survived for so long given its most violent past. Didier Ben Loulou now lives in Jerusalem, having been born in France of Jewish French/Algerian parents. He has for several years been photographing in the historic old city. In a place that is so full of narratives both from the past and the future, Ben Loulou's work has developed, not surprisingly, away from the documentary tradition. The strength of his work lies in the fact that Ben Loulou has constructed for us a position that is uncomfortable. In much of the work we are so close to the subject that we struggle to identify anything of the personal relating to the subjects of photographs. The fact that we have been placed so close to the subject and at the same time are not allowed any form of intimate contact enhances Ben Loulou's work massively with a sense of violence and at the same time vulnerability; the function being to move the photographs away from the personal and into the situational. Ben Loulou's sustained photographic details work like surgical incisions on the surface of the city, incisions that beg us to see past the epidermis and look not at the body, but into the body. What Ben Loulou has constructed is a statement that asks us to investigate the psychology of difference. We are never really sure who we are looking at and why. It's as if Ben Loulou has taken the intense sunlight of the region and inverted it within the photographs. His use of color has the sensibility of one who has started too long at the sun and can now only see the burned shadows etched in his mind.
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