In Across a Dark Land, Tel Aviv-based photographer Ohad Matalon waited for the darkest night of each month and then carried his studio light equipment and large-format film camera into the desert to photograph abandoned architectural structures against an empty sky. In the resulting black-and-white images, each construction looks like a ruined monument to conflict or neglect.
British Riders Police Gate pictures the free-standing surviving half of a police gate once used as a point of entry to a now open space, no longer enclosed by any wall or fence. Commanders View Balkony depicts an abandoned look-out point, with an open facade that calls Gordon Matta-Clark’s deconstruction pieces to mind. Several works show single home structures or safe houses with many gun-shots holes, as well as missing walls and roofs. Theatrically lit and isolated from any context, these charged objects are open portals into the political history of the recent past. As large-scale prints, they give the viewer the space to imagine themselves walking into an uninhabited landscape.
Matalon grew up in the desert, on an Israeli Kibbutz on the edge of a cliff. “This landscape was a playground for my friends and me, and I feel an emotional connection to it,” the artist explains. “Later the area was heavily bombed in air force trainings. Across a Dark Land is, in part, my way of reclaiming it.” Given the history and trauma of this conflict-ridden region, a heavy layer lies underneath his own personal connection to the land. However, it exists without creating propaganda by overtly advocating a particular political point of view, instead using sophisticated visual strategies to explore the connection between photography and the real within a contemporary documentary art context.
Shooting in the depths of the night takes Matalon’s abandoned subjects out of the realm of straight documentary, dousing them in a distinctive emotional aura. The conspicuous absence of people or other forms of life in these images heightens their post apocalyptic quality. This narrative is dramatized by Matalon’s atmospheric lighting, which creates an uncanny feeling in the viewer. This darkness also strips his structures of their scale. In his images, the bullet-riddled buildings with missing walls and exposed plaster could easily be miniature scale models of themselves. With this dioramic effect, the buildings become like objects of desire. The viewer is drawn to their beauty yet repulsed by their grotesqueness.
Across a Dark Land, is an open meditation on injustice, violence, trauma, and the crises of representation that arise from attempts to document the evidence of this trauma. They speak to objects’ uncanny ability to hold memories and to our inevitably limited and fraught understanding of those memories. These beautiful, disquieting photographs allow us to look at the aftermath of conflict and consider history in the context of multiple possible futures.