any of us see the relationship between the photographer and his/her subjects as if the camera were an extension of the photographer’s eye. In the case of Rula Halawani (1964), an internationally renowned Palestinian photographer who was born, raised, and continues to live in the Mount of Olives neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, the camera is not only an extension of her eye, but also of her humanity and political identity.
Rula Halawani is a working artist, a photographer who lives and works in an intensely political environment. Halawani worked for Reuters until 1999, and since then has worked as a freelance photojournalist. From the beginning it was not an easy job for her. In addition to the fact that she was a woman living in a conservative society where there were very few other working women, there were even fewer Palestinians working as photojournalists. Most of the others were Westerners or Israelis.
Furthermore, since the beginning of her career, Rula was aware that she could not put her feelings aside. “I felt that something was wrong with my relationship to what I was doing,” she noted. “I was trained like the other Western photojournalists to ‘get the picture,’ and I know that many of them felt sympathy towards the people they were shooting. But for me, the relationship to what I was shooting was different. The problem for me was that the picture was not a separate thing or event to document The pictures I was taking were part of me, and I was part of them.”
Moreover, Halawani is constantly engaged in representing the daily transformation that occurs on the ground in Palestinian existence, which is overwhelmingly defined at the everyday level by political circumstances. Although her projects have a strong political message, they are an attempt to express aspects of the experience and feelings of the Palestinians, as a people. They allow others to look at and enter into the pictures and reflect on their own relationships to these experiences and feelings.
Halawani received an MA in photographic studies from the University of Westminster in London. Upon her graduation from Westminster she founded the photography programme at Birzeit University in 2000, where she currently works as director and photography teacher.
Working as an artist since 1988, Halawani is considered to be one of the most influential photographers in Palestine. She has exhibited at prominent arts and culture institutions worldwide including the Arab World Institute in Paris and the Khalid Shoman Foundation in Jordan. Rula’s artwork is now also part of the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s permanent collection. In September 2008, a major retrospective of her work was held in Brussels as part of the Masarat Festival of Palestinian Art and Culture. Part of the retrospective has been exhibited during the Masarat Festival in Palestine at Al Hoash Gallery in Jerusalem and will later move to Ramallah.
Text compiled by the Palestinian Art Court-Al Hoash.