South West Jerusalem

I was born in 1974 in Jerusalem and grew up in Kiriat Hayovel , a neighborhood which was originally built as an immigrant housing project of the 1950s and 1960s, notorious for the oppressive socialist architecture, which crammed thousands of immigrants into “residential machines”.  The fact that our family ended up in this particular neighborhood was quite unusual in those days as the population in the 70’s and 80’s was still almost solely originated from the Moroccan immigrant families who were first housed there in the 50’s.

My parents were African immigrants too, but they came from another region and different ethnic backgrounds. My mother arrived in 1960 from South Africa with a youth group and fervent Zionist intentions; in 1973 she met my father who had just arrived from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and who had no intentions of settling down in Israel or anywhere else. Somehow they ended up married with 3 kids and as my Dad still had some slim hope of escape he was not going to tie himself down with a mortgage, and the only place he could afford to buy an apartment without a mortgage was Kiriat Hayovel. As kids we didn’t really understand how our little book filled apartment and English speaking parents stood out amongst our neighbors, we did feel a little strange now and then and we envied the food our friends’ mothers cooked, but that was about all and somehow we all did fit in and this neighborhood is our home.

As we grew up the social fabric of the neighborhood changed, in the 90’s the original inhabitants started moving away and new immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia came in their stead.  And a true melting pot and blend of ethnic communities and cultures society occurred. This process exposed and created many problems, some of which in hind sight I can see occurred to our family but which I was not able to perceive and understand as a child.

It was in 2000 that I started to document my neighborhoods in my photography, for me this is a very personal project which has matured into a body of work that expresses my social and political beliefs. It is not by chance that I am still living in these neighborhoods, it is by choice. All my contemporaries who grew up here left at the first opportunity they had, but for me a large part of my identify as a person and as an artist are rooted here, where the best and the worst in society are part of the daily struggle to survive.

I chose to photograph this project with 8″ x 10″ and 4″ x 5″ cameras. In these formats I find I am able to really emphasize every detail.  I want the viewers to feel this place as it really is even without knowing the history.

Yaakov Israel, 2013