Inbal Abergil – Visual Artist & Educator

Inbal Abergil – Visual Artist & Educator

– Hello and welcome to
the i3 lecture series hosted by the Masters in
Digital Photography program at the school of visual arts. We are thrilled to welcome photographer Inbal Abergil as tonight’s guest speaker. Originally from Jerusalem,
Inbal completed her BFA at the Midrasha School of Art in 2007, and then went on to obtain
her MFA in visual arts from Columbia University in 2011. She is currently based in New York and works as an assistant
professor of photography at Pace University. She has had solo shows at Miyako Yoshinaga
Gallery in New York City, Tova Osman Gallery in Tel-Aviv, and Kibbutz Art Gallery, also Tel-Aviv. Selected group shows include
Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, Jeonju Photo Festival, South Korea, Shulamit Gallery, California, and most recently, Aperture
Gallery in New York. Her work can be found in
the permanent collections of the Israel Museum, Fisher
Landau Center for Art, The American University Art Museum, and Haaretz Collection in Tel-Aviv. Inbal has been awarded
the Rabenovich Prize, Tel-Aviv Department of
Art and Culture, 2004, The America-Israel
Cultural Foundation, 2002, and the Artis Grant Program, 2012. Her first monograph, “N.O.K.: Next of Kin” was recently published by Daylight to great critical acclaim. We will have copies of the book tonight for sale and signing after the lecture. And please help me welcome Inbal Abergil to our lecture series. – So my first serious station was the solo exhibition in Tel-Aviv, that was my first solo exhibition. And I am coming from Jerusalem, I was born and raised in Jerusalem. And at that time in 2004, the main public transportation is the bus. And unfortunately there
were a lot of terror attacks and it was during the time
that you ride the bus. They were blowing up buses,
usually in the morning. But you couldn’t know where it would be. They just randomly chose neighborhood and you would go on the bus in the morning and you never know if you’ll come back, if you’ll see your family, the
same family member basically. And so using the bus, I decided to document the Israeli bus
stops in between the cities without no passengers in them, and showing the bus stop
as the last performance of the Israeli society, basically. In Israel, during the
Shabbat, during the Saturday, started Friday afternoon
when the sun is going down, until Saturday evening, there
is no public transportation. So Saturday morning was my time to go to those bus
station and take pictures, without any passengers. And taking pictures of
what the station become. Like here, for example,
it’s become a flower store. The people pick up for family dinners. And the graffiti actually
says, “Arabs out.” So people will come and
react with the station, and place graffiti and adds and
it becomes like a billboard. Here it’s like a personal
joke about us as Israelis that we never go all nine yards. We put the solar panel
that is the most expensive but they never put the street
light for it to be used. (audience laughs) So it’s those small
things that you can see when you are basically
traveling through Israel. Here you can see also
another thing that we have. The ad that you see on the
bus stop is a Shiva ad. When someone passed away we sit Shiva. That means the number seven in Hebrew, and we sit for seven days
and offer the person, basically we put that in the public space so people will know that
the person passed away and then you can come
and pay your respects even if you don’t know the person. The house, the apartment is open and people just come
during those seven days and they take care of that family. The immediate family is
sitting, but the rest of them basically take care of
that family for that week. So the station, as I
said, it’s an invitation to act and show the political
aspect of society in Israel. Here you have two graffitis, it say’s, “There are Arabs, there
are terror attack,” and then it says “Kahane was laughing.” But it used to be, “Kahane was right.” Kahane was one of the most
extreme right leaders in Israel. He actually was murdered here in New York. And someone came and add just
another line on that word and it transformed the word from Kahane was right
to Kahane was laughing. So again, it’s just small things that allow you all of a sudden from just passing through to stay, spend time with the station, and really see what
people left behind them, while they are spending
time in the station. There are different materials that the station is being made. Like this, I can’t even
think about the person that will stand in this station because it’s so hot in
Israel, and it’s metal and I couldn’t even
imagine standing under it. So it just become like an ad
place, a forum for the public. A clean station, just a new
one was very hard to find. And when I came out with this project a lot of critic called it a station that didn’t see any terror, yet. Because a lot of the terror
was during the bus stops. In the bus while the bus
stops in the bus stop. Just a stand in the view, in the landscape and you know that you need to stand there and wait, and the bus will come. Sometimes you don’t even
know where it will be or where you are going. It’s not really a secure
place for you to wait. In a way, a performance of us through this waiting place. This is a station in
Jerusalem that’s seen terror and then it became a monument, basically. The family members kept coming and changing the flowers and the candles. Even though everyone thought it would be a temporary monument, everyone called it a life-memory place that will be unrevealed,
the layer will be pealing and the flowers will go down,
the flags will worn out, but it just kept being
maintained by the families and nobody expected it. Here you can also see the background. You see our village and you
see how close we live together, so this whole idea of separation is not really something that walks because we are one, basically. Working on this series and
starting with those monuments, not really knowing where I will be today, I wanted to show that,
as my first body of work. Jumping forward to 2011,
Nothing Left Here But The Hurt is a project that I did when
I came here to United States to do my masters at Columbia. The title of the work is
from a poem by Brian Turner. I highly recommend to look him up. He’s a former soldier
that went to Afghanistan and came back and his first
book was “Here, Bullet.” Since then he wrote other books, great one which I would highly recommend. So when I came here to Columbia I got housing on Riverside Drive and I just took a walk and I was amazed by the amount of monuments
that America has here, and the fact that they are all figurative. Coming from Israel, living war, everyone has to join the military, everyone, when you fight at home you look back, you see your home. If there is a siren, you
go down to the shelter. It never happen in a different place. All our monuments are abstract. I can’t imagine a figurative one. While here, everyone may experience war through an abstract way,
maybe through the TV screen, but all the monuments are figurative. When Maya Lin did hers in
Washington D.C., the Wall that was the first abstract
one, everyone was upset and thought that it’s an
insult for the Vietnam War. And then they build
another one, figurative in front of it. So coming here starting to
think about the station, between abstract and figurative and building this
installation of 81 photographs 12 feet high from ceiling
to floor, 16 feet wide. And going back to the monumental side, there are a lot of monuments here, different periods of time, different aesthetic, different wars. But the one thing everyone has in common is the fact that they’re being ignored. I was amazed that they are in park and you can ear your lunch there while in Israel it’s
always outside of the city, and you’ll go there and pay respect and you’ll maybe be there on Memorial Day. So all of a sudden to get the
public memory in another way was something that I was fascinated by. So I took pictures of all the monuments over on the East coast. And combine them with
Greek mythology statues that speak about pain and
loss, and trying to reenact the battlefield in one image, basically. And the size of it, the
monumental size of it is basically forcing itself on the viewer. Coming here also, starting
doing those sequences I understand that everyone
reads from left to right. In Hebrew you read right to left. So the grade was a solution
for me, because statistically when you look at a grade
you start in the middle, and then you go into the direction that you are used to read. So that’s how I decided
to have it as a grade. I repeated some of the images, and make a different kind of focus level so it will be an active wall, and putting basically some
life into the monuments, as a living thing, and not
just a static installation. My urban space, public and political space is basically from the public monuments start to narrow down to
the private monuments that the family keeps,
to keep the memory alive, and that’s how I started to think about the American military
families and what they keep. Because the public monuments
weren’t really serving anyone, nobody knew what they were
about or nobody cared. And then I started to think, okay, so how the family
actually remember it, and what they are doing to
remember their beloved ones. At the same time, before
I speak about N.O.K., I had an opportunity to
show my work in Belfast in Derry Londonderry in Northern Ireland, and that’s another conflict
that I won’t get into because it’s some extra jazz by itself. but Northern Ireland is basically
have Britain there present and Irish wants it to be
part of the Irish Republic. Coming to the residency, this
is the house that I receive. And they came to pick
me up from the airport and then they stop next to this house and I saw the Israeli
flag and I was confused. I was like, in my head, like
did they put the flag for me? It’s like a little bit
too much, even in Israel. And the flag may be only
on Independence Day. So I asked Gail, the director, I was like why do we have an Israeli flag? And she said well, you will
see the whole neighborhood and you will understand,
so it wasn’t for me, it’s just that, the British side, there are neighbors in Belfast that took up on their self the
Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The British side took
the Israeli side in it so you will see British
flags and Israeli ones. And then the Irish took the Palestinians, so you will see Ireland
flags and Palestinians. So for me being in Belfast was intriguing because it’s the first
time that I’m in a place that after three decades of
conflict, they declare peace. Israel never declared peace. Since the day we are
established, we are still in war. So all of a sudden to be in a place that says that there is peace, apparently, but still have so many signs, and so many layers of conflict,
that you go and you walk and you just see them and
pay attention to them, especially for the unrevealing eye that you just go by with your camera, you pay attention to so many
things that I was struck by. A lot of people wanted
to tell their stories. The memory is a live thing, basically. It’s not a thing that they forget. Like in Israel, if there
is a terror attack, maybe two or three hours
after, the place will be clean. Like nothing happened. Immediately people want
to go back to their life. In Belfast, I had a
different kind of feeling of like people want to remember and they cannot allow
themselves to forget. So in residential neighborhood
you can find those murals. When you go out from your house this is like the thing that you’ll see. And I can’t even imagine have
that in front of your window. But the tension is always
there and you can feel it. There are cameras everywhere. And even though it is a time of peace, they still have the dream to be united, some of them, not all of them. Going through Belfast, you really reveal a lot of the region, the time, and how things have
changed, but not completely. Those cages are something
that they put on their bars, to be protected when they
had the trouble times. But you can still see in time a place, in becomes an aesthetic kind
of that they put flowers on, but you still have the cameras
on top while you go there. There are a lot of peace lines and high barriers that they put
to divide the neighborhoods. And basically is caused a lot
of people to do a long detour to just get to the bus stop, or something. I was lucky enough to have the person that has the key to this door. And he took me around the neighborhood and he opened the door for me, and I was able to go both sides
without taking the detour. This is a body of work that
I’m still working on and edit, and I feel that I need to go back to be able to finish this project. It was important for me to
show you what I have in mind while I’m still working on N.O.K. This is in Derry Londonderry. On the side there where the Irish flag is you can see the Palestinian flag as well. And you can see how close
they are to the houses. Like think about someone
doing a bonfire like that in Brooklyn like next to
houses, it’s like unheard of. And it’s so huge, it’s really huge. Here in Belfast this is the
only high building that you have and that’s something
that the British build so they will have snipers on the top to maintain quiet, basically. So I wanted to put it next to the bonfire. You can see the Israeli flag that is about to be burned
together with the British one. And then how people protect
their houses on the window. Again, because the
amount of hate is crazy. Coming to N.O.K.: Next of Kin, my current project that I’ve
been working for three years. From the public monuments
from that distance of memory, and how people choose to
remember their beloved ones. I was intrigued by the
American military families, and what they keep. Just a few things, before
I’m getting into it. Again, in Israel you have
to serve in the military. I was an Air Force photographer. We also have gold star families, we name them a different name. They have really high
respect during Memorial Day in Israel, everyone is part of it. And if you want to escape Memorial Day you basically have to leave the country. Because the TV channels have
documentary film about soldiers and different wars, and the
radio always just puts silence, and there is one minute of silence that people have to stand
still for one minute, even if you drive the highway,
you will stop your car, you get out, you stand for one minute, you go back, in the middle of the highway. And when I came here Memorial Day was something like a possibility to just if you want you can experience it, if not it’s basically a long
weekend, it’s a day of sales. And I thought that I
don’t really understand what people are telling me, I’m like, shouldn’t we go, pay
respects, attend the ceremony? And I understand that it’s completely not connected to so many people. Basically if you don’t have a direct relationship with the military. Less than 0.5% of American citizens served in the army, in the military here, compared to 12% that
were in World War Two. It’s still a lot of people,
but this country is so huge so it really doesn’t
connect to so many others, unless they have someone serve. So having all of that in mind, I wanted to go and meet with the families here in this set of books, it’s
one book combined from two. One has all the photographs, and one has all the testimonials that I held with the families. There are 18 families, 18 in Hebrew in numerology it stands for life. They are from different
wars, World War Two, Vietnam, Enduring Freedom,
Iraq, Afghanistan, and all over United States. It’s basically one book
that I wanted to have as the size of a journal,
because that’s the object, a soldier’s journal is something
that came up all the time when I was photographing and
meeting with the families. Here I met with Tracy,
and she lost her wife. They are a same-sex couple,
and because she lost her wife, she was never notified
that her wife was killed because the military doesn’t
recognize their marriage even though they were legally married. And she basically needed to run after them with her marriage certificate
so she will be notified. She is serving in the military as well. I was asking her why you
are staying in the military if they treat you that way, and she said that she’s proud to serve her country, but she feels that her
country is not proud of her. Since that she was fighting in
court to get her rights back. She fought for like four years,
and she is still in court. She got some of them, but she
felt that she has the duty to fight for everyone, all
the same-sex couple military because she didn’t have kids, and she had a sustained
income from the military, but she thought about other
couples that may not have that, and have kids, and things
will be much harder for them. So she wanted to do it for all. Here you can see also their wedding rings that she never received. Because she is a soldier
she got the opportunity, the mother of Donna actually allowed her to get information and to escort the body, and then she needed to place the object that were on Donna, in
front of the mother. And once the mother decided
to give it back to her then she could reclaim her object, object that she gave to her wife. And those are memorial tattoos that she made of their favorite song. This is the house in North
Carolina where I met her. She almost lost her house, basically because she wasn’t defined
as her next of kin. She got this set of medals,
but the medals were duplicate. And she tried to explain to me, and emphasize how important it is for me to understand
that those are duplicate and not the original, and
there is a difference. Because she is her wife, and
she should get the original. And she should be notified. Here I met with Emily,
she’s the mother is Issac. Emily is here from the Bronx. Yesterday, it’s been 10
years since Isaac was killed. She received back his
pillow and his T-shirts, so she wrapped his
pillow with his T-shirts and this is how she sleeps at night. She know that it’s not
him, but she pretends. The amount of things
that they receive back is something that I raised
in every conversation that I had with all the families. And they are overwhelmed by the things that they receive back from the military. Emily unfortunately lost her apartment so she needed, she phrased it like putting Isaac back in boxes. She had to put it in storage, and she was kind enough to take me there. I took that picture, but then
she couldn’t really stay there and could not go over the things, and we had to close it and leave. But the amount of things are enormous because it’s the things
that you have from childhood and the things that they
receive back from the military and the things that other people send them after the person has been killed. And then they really don’t
know what to do with all of it. Here you can see the pin. On the left is the Next of Kin pin, and on the right is the
Gold Star mother pin. And the Gold Star term comes
from basically World War One. Back then people used to
hang a flag over their house if they had a family member serve, and it was with a blue star on it. Once that family member was killed, then the blue star would
be replaced by a gold star. So the whole community
will know the price for it. So the Gold Star pin is actually what the mother put on themselves when they usually have a white outfit. And you know how to recognize
them, and pay respect. Just another word about Emily. She is really amazing in terms of trying to do everything so
her son will be remembered. She name the street that he was
born in the Bronx after him. She named the post office after him. And this is a lot of working,
a lot of bureaucracy. It’s not something that you can just do. And she named a car race after him, and she basically feel that
is she’s not doing that, if she won’t do it, nobody else will. And so she is trying to
do as much as she can before she will pass away. Here I met with Pam in Colorado. Pam lost her son Chris,
and this is his uniform. This is the first thing that you see when you enter the house. She asked her casualty assistant officer to actually help her arrange
all the medals on the uniform. When she was notified, because
her son was not married she has the right to be buried with him. So basically once she’s been
notified she needs to determine how deep she wants the grave to be dug, based on the family members that want to be buried
with him in the future. And she said that she
can’t even think about it because she just lost her son and she wants to give her own life to him so he could keep living,
and experience things that he didn’t have the chance doing so. It’s all kinds of decisions that they have to make immediately, once they’ve been notified. This is their Christmas tree
and she keep it all year long because she knows this
is his favorite ornament and when he was a child he
snowboard and broke his legs. During the time with Pam, she
made sure that all his friends and her family will come and speak with me so I will get the complete picture. But at the same time, the father was sitting in the living room not saying anything to me, and
not really speaking with me. He was welcoming me, they
were super nice and welcoming. All of them were, really
each and every family. But during that time, when all the people talking about Chris I was thinking about how he
is dealing with everything and why is it that he is
not coming to speak with me and tell me his side of the story. And that made me feel that I have to meet with the male side of the family, as well. Because the mothers and wives were the first ones to come out and want to share the story immediately. But the male side is something
that I had to chase after. So basically I wanted
to complete the family, and that’s how I knew
the project will be done. Here I met with Scotty
and she is the mother of the most deployed soldier
in the Unites States. He was killed on his 14th deployment. When they came to notify
her it was October 21st, and they told her that he
was killed on October 22nd. And she was like, wait
it is confusing as it is, how is it October 21st
today, and they were well he was killed in Afghanistan
so it’s 12 hours ahead. So he was killed in a day
that she didn’t even live yet. And they were so worried
about the media exposure because he was the most deployed soldier ever in the United States, he
is the most deployed soldier. So they had to come and
tell her immediately. She keeps all his stories,
and she is a writer. She had nothing to do with the military. She never wanted him to join. She wanted him to go to college when he told her that he’s coming and he wants to join the military she said no, you’re going to college. But that’s what he wanted. And she said I had to support him. I never supported him with my full heart, but I had to support him, he’s my son. While she was taking out things, all of a sudden this
key-chain here on the left. This is actually an Israeli special unit, and I asked her how she has it and she told me that he used to train with Israelis in Israel. So we had a whole
conversation about politics. Here I met with Diane,
she’s the niece of John and John was killed in World War Two. He was the first one to
receive the Medal of Honor and came back alive, and he became a hero. She said that they were an
Italian family from a small town and they didn’t know how to
deal with all this attention. Those are all letter that women sent him to suggest themselves basically. All of a sudden, think
about that it’s 73 years ago and the whole conversation
was completely different. It was different kind of emotions. The amount of things that she has are maybe a pile of things,
compared to the recent war. And all of a sudden we went through letters from Frank
Sinatra, because the aunt asked Frank Sinatra to
do a movie about him. She took out Life magazine copies that he is featured inside of them. One of them had a cover of
Eugene Smith and I was excited. She never met her uncle, but she grew up in her grandmother’s house and she heard stories about him. The aunt told her that she is the one that have to keep the memory alive. And that’s what she kept doing. That’s something that I
wanted to have in the project. I wanted to see the element of
time, and how things change. And basically the whole conversation was about how to save
his memory as a hero. There is still a parade
in New Jersey every year. There are so many streets
and bridge after his name. He really was an important
person for that community. For him to come back,
and when he was killed they wanted to give him
another Medal of Honor but you never give two
Medal of Honor to a soldier. So he got the Medal of Honor
and then the Navy Cross. But it’s a very high level of medal. Here I met with Vicky, and she lost her brother
Stephen in Vietnam. This is the newspaper. He used to deliver
newspaper when he was a kid, and they wrote the obituary
about him after he was killed. You can see the details about him, and about the family that waits. She says when it happened
she was a little girl. She couldn’t really keep anything after her mother passed away. When she cleaned her apartment then she could reclaim the objects and take things that he sent her. It happened on Christmas, and she says they never celebrate Christmas since then. And she could never come
out and speak about it because back then they would
call her brother a baby killer and she couldn’t really talk about it. Today is a different kind of situation that a family comes
out with their stories. Again, she had just a pile of things, and the things that she
keep close are his letters and she reads them to the
public every Memorial Day. Here I met with Liz, she
is the sister of Jaimie. Jaimie was the most
high-rank soldier woman that was killed in the
military, Lieutenant Colonel and this was her Barbie. Liz says she doesn’t give it
to her daughter to play with, and she always them I
will buy you another one but this is Jaimie’s, don’t touch it. Jaimie was deployed a lot, not
just to Afghanistan and Iraq, also Bosnia, South Korea, Turkey. And she bought a lot of things
because in military housing you can sleep with the soldier
that is the same rank as you, and there are not a lot
of women in that rank so she had the whole room to herself so she used to buy a lot of things dreaming about the house that she will furnish
one day with all of them Unfortunately she never got to do that. Liz told me that it took
them a year and a half to go through all her things. She moved to a new house, so she took all those things
and furnished her house. She said that Jaimie is
all around, basically. I took the objects and placed them and used them as my backgrounds. I always ask them what I
can do and if I can move it, you know what I can do with the object I never know how close they are to them. Liz was, no it’s good that you are here, you can do whatever you want. I have to learn how to let go. And some of them were
staying with me the whole day all the time after the interview. And some of them just let me
be and do whatever I want. Some of them start to be my
assistant and hold my reflectors and it become like a photography lesson. They were amazed how much you
can learn about photography and it’s not just taking a picture. Here I met the Ortega family in Miami. The Ortegas came from Nicaragua. In Nicaragua you have to serve. And they came to the United States because they didn’t want
their only son to serve. They have five daughters
and a son, William. He joined the military,
he didn’t tell them. They discovered after six
months, and it was too late. He was a very unique combination of the Marines and the
Navy, but he made it. This is their living room. The whole conversation
was held in Spanish. The father told me that he
just run through this room because he never wants
to look at those medals and he doesn’t care about those medals. But it is displayed because
that’s what the mother wants, and he wants his son back, he doesn’t care about those medals. The whole conversation was in Spanish, I don’t speak Spanish unfortunately, and the daughter was translating for me and it was clear enough, even
when I didn’t hear the word but just seeing the tears coming down, what I’m about to hear. And even though every family surprises me with their information
and their experience of how they’ve been notified, and what kind of objects they keep, and how they choose to keep it. William got his American
citizenship after he was killed. And this is how the mother
keeps all his objects. Here I met with Maggie,
she’s the wife of Kyle. She’s the first one that met with me. This is a photograph
that was in his wallet, with him all the time,
even when he was killed. And they are laughing in this picture because it was a joke that
he’s always shorter than her, but on Christmas he stand on the stool and was higher, and took the picture, And that’s the moment that
he always carried with him. When they came to notify her
they were based in Italy. So basically they came to notify her in the evening, and she had to leave to receive the body in the United States. So basically she had nothing with her. Her friends packed all her apartment and shipped everything
to the United States so she needed to wait for like four months after things came back. So she had nothing, nothing to smell, nothing to touch, nothing
to hug, nothing with her. Here I met with Joshua’s father, Chris. This is a letter that he sent. Joshua is a Gold Star
father that I met in Tampa. And I told him, how
many Gold Star families, Gold Star dad there are in Tampa. He said, well we are six Gold Star fathers and we always go to play golf. We never speak about anything. We know we are here for each
other, but we don’t speak. I love this drawing because it just show how afraid he was, just a kid basically. The journal is something, as
I said, that always came back. They allowed me to read and go through it. While I kept keeping
those journals in my head I knew that this is the size, this is how I want my book to be. That intimate, that small. And have it as something that you open and reveal so many secrets,
stories, or narratives. Here I met with Christie. She’s the wife of the first chaplain that was killed since the Vietnam War. Chaplains usually are not being killed because they are not out in the field. But he was special because he
always went with his troops. Chaplain has an assistant
because he cannot, he will never carry a gun on him. So he has to have someone protecting him. This is cars that he built
with his sons for derby races. I didn’t know what they are. It’s another thing that I reveal about the American culture
while I’m meeting with families. She basically keeps everything because she doesn’t know
what her sons will want. They are so small, still young. This is Dale’s baby shoes. And this is his boots that
came back from Afghanistan with the mud, and she keep it that way. Usually they clean everything, and that’s something that
the families complain because they won’t have the smell. But those boots have never been cleaned and she keeps it that way. Here I met with Mrs. Chance and her son, she lost her son Jesse,
he was in the Marines. She always says that she’s
a Blue Star and a Gold Star because she has a daughter the served. She’s a single mother,
and for her the church was the community that
really took care of her. And she’s thankful for that, all the time. She doesn’t care about the medals. It’s the first time that I saw all the medals in a Ziploc bag. Never framed or hang on the wall. She says that she just want
to hear stories about Jesse and how he affect peoples lives. So she created a Facebook page. She’s almost 70 and she
created a Facebook page, and she’s going to the cemetery
with a huge picture of him, sitting down there, waiting
for people to approach her, recognize the picture and approach her, and tell her stories about Jesse. Here I met with Linda,
she’s the wife of Floyd and this is the doll that
he sent his daughter, and the daughter came with that doll and she stood next to me and made sure that I didn’t
do anything to the camel because it started to fall apart. And I was surprised to see a
camel here in United States because in children’s books
you never see the camel. It’s not one of the popular animals. But for me coming from
Israel, of course it is. Talking with Maurice Emerson, that is one of the writers for
the book, he fought in Iraq. He told me that they all
went to the same bazaar and bought the same things. And that’s how she received this doll. And he was intrigued to know
if something will happen to him if his children would keep that camel. Here I met with Kendra,
she’s the sister of Stephen. This is a sweatshirt of
his that she received back, and she wear it all year, and she couldn’t take
it off for that year. This is him visiting
her on her wedding day and she said that her family
can’t really speak about it. She doesn’t have anyone
to speak about it with. It’s so hard, and they just text that day, I love you, they sent texts
around the brothers and sisters. And that’s how they deal with it. But she was so open and she was surprised that I want to hear it, and that I come and I take this time to
get to know her stories and hear all about Stephen. Here I met with a brother
and a sister separately. Barbara and Ray, and they
lost their brother in Vietnam. There was a ship named after Robert, and this was his bible. The United States, after
they were done with the ship they sold it to Egypt,
and they have a board back from the Egyptians,
that they sent it to them. With the Moinesters it
was an amazing meeting because like everyone else,
but in a different special way because they lost their
brother in Vietnam, but they were living in a
street that everyone served. So basically when a family lost someone, they had that community that hugged them and took care of them, compared to Vicky that couldn’t even talk about her brother and had a completely
different conversation. Didn’t know how to deal with things. Here even they divide the
things among the family members. They heard about his
death, the parents heard about his death before the notifier came. Back then in Vietnam there
was too many casualties, and they didn’t have the
time to tell everyone. And they got a letter
from one of his unit, one of the soldiers in his unit, telling them that he’s
sorry for their loss. And they didn’t understand
why they got that letter. And then the notifiers
came in the afternoon. Those are Polaroids that he sent back. I was amazed how well
they’ve been maintained, and behind every Polaroid there is a full description
of the place in Vietnam. He was completely
intrigued by their culture and sent so many objects like tea pots, and fabrics, and a pearl
necklace to his sister because he was so amazed,
and he liked to dress up so he had all those things
that he sent back to them. Here I met with Estelline,
she’s the mother of Justin. Justin was a special forces Green Beret. In Green Beret they are
in small teams of 12. And when they are being deployed, they don’t have a base to stay,
they are always on the move. So he told his mother, don’t
send me things that I can’t eat because he didn’t want to carry it on him. And after he was killed she was amazed that he had this notebook
that she gave him years ago as a present. And he wrote a poem inside about him being the medic of the group, and how soldiers call him
while they are being hurt, and how there is a
mother crying back home. His dressing watch was also on him. Again, things that she said
what he did with it there? Like, why he took it with him. And one of the books that I read also, by Tim O’Brien “The Things They Carried.” And it was amazing to see both of them. He always used to go with a hat, and this is his childhood one. To reach the Gold Star families I had to go and attend a lot of events, and they had one
exhibition here in New York for all the Gold Star families that we have in New York state. All of a sudden I saw
Justin’s picture there so I went to the casualty assistant that helped me with this
project, Raul, and I told him, why do we have Justin’s pictures here, I met her in Colorado. And he said, well Justin’s
father is living here in Upstate New York, in Hancock. Do you want to meet him? And I was like, yes, of course. So I went and met with the father, this is the hat that he wore
recently before he was killed, and had a conversation with him about the things that he keeps. He kept the first deer that
Justin hunt, he loved to hunt. And he hunted when he was 13, 14, and they striped the deer
because he had white fir and that’s something that is rare to have. But they didn’t really do it well, so some of it fell off, and
then he drew on the skin. He has an enormous farm in Hancock. He put the poll 70 feet
high, with a flag for Justin. Basically you can see it
everywhere you are driving. And standing under it, it was enormous, and it was moving, it
was very windy that day. I just couldn’t stop
taking pictures of it. This is the only grave that I visit, because he was buried at home. And Justin’s father took me there and the first thing that he did on this side of the grave it’s just soil, so he took the soil and rubbed it, so anything green that comes out of it, just basically kills it and takes it away, so the grave look fresh, it looks like he was buried yesterday. And Justin is buried
next to his grandfather that was killed, he wasn’t killed, he served in World War Two. Having those two families in
completely different places, and having the talk with them was another thing that I didn’t expect. I was grateful to meet
all of the families. I never knew who I am about to meet, we just exchanged emails. But then I’m pressing the doorbell, getting into the house,
and then it’s a whole kind of meeting, an intense one. I always held the interview first, to get to know their stories, and then once I had the stories in my mind then I started to go through the objects and take the pictures. A lot of them told me, before I was coming Inbal maybe you shouldn’t come, I don’t know if I have a
lot of things, I’m not sure. And I was like ensuring
them, you know what I’ll just come and see
what you have, it’s okay. And from the conversation,
from the interview a lot of people start
to recall other things and before you know it,
they just keep taking more and more objects,
and the whole living room was full of things for me to photograph. Thank you. (Applause) – [Woman] We don’t see any
photographs of the actual family and I like that, cause
that’s very personal, when you photograph them, right? How did you choose them, and you seem to remember everybody’s name? Was that? – Well it was a very intense meeting with each and every family. First of all I chose not
to take their portraits because I think objects
are more universal. Everyone can have that black notebook. And that’s how I wanted people
to approach the project. First from lost, because lost
is part of everyone’s life. You will experience it at some
point, if you hadn’t already. Then there is the story of the military. And again, I came here and I saw how much everyone is completely not
attached to the military life and I wanted to bring back the audience in a way that they will know,
so lost was through that. With portrait it’s something so specific, and again I wanted to have it a more broad universal kind of way. I remember everyone, I think
I’ll remember them forever, just because I have my notes, because sometimes you forget
when you are standing here. But I’ll remember them forever, they’re a part of my life
and they will always be. – [Man] I remember before
the book was released you gave me an advanced
copy of the essays. – It was the ‘zine, the
first part of this project had a solo exhibition on Baxter street because I was one of the
residents, and got their grant, and that’s what allowed me
to start with the project. Taking pictures, not to start
with, but to keep going with. With the exhibition I had
a ‘zine that I gave people just with the stories, without any images. – [Man] Inbal gave me a copy of that ‘zine and said to me, just make sure
you wait until you get home, or some place where you can
actually read this privately. And being who I am, I started
reading it on the subway. And five minutes later I was crying. So unless you’re comfortable
weeping in public, you should really read
this in a private place. And it doesn’t come across in the lecture but I did want to signal to you that there’s two parts to this project. One is the testimonies and the
other one is the photographs, and of course they are related. But the testimonies are amazing, and I wanted to hear more about that. You know, how do you edit
through the interviews, or did you collaborate with a writer to then distill the essence
of those testimonies. How’d that work? – The interviews were hours of recording, and I had to go through them
and write everything down, and then start to edit and think how can I pass that feeling
time that I spend with them, how can I, because I had
recent events now for the book and some of the Gold Star families came, and they were there to tell the
story, and it’s so powerful. And I wanted to have that essence. I didn’t take any help of a writer, I just used the help of my
closest friends to read them and give me some feedback,
what they think about it. And they just tell me, keep going. And then I had the amazing
help of the editor, you know just going through them but keep their voices, keep their accents, keep the time when they
laugh or when they cry, because it was very
important for me to have that as something that you have
just really few pages of it, but it’s been really
difficult to edit down. But I really wanted to keep just the most powerful points of it. – [Woman 2] Hi, how do
you find those families, how do you pick them? And also, the part of the interview, how do you make them open up to you, how do you make them feel a little bit more comfortable
to tell you everything? – Well, reaching a Gold Star
family was so difficult. I didn’t even imagine it
when I started the project. I thought that I was naive enough that I will just approach the military and they will give me a list of families, and I will go and meet with them. Because again, in Israel we have a unit to take care of those Gold Star families. They have all the
information that you need. But nobody really wanted to help me. Then I went and approached
my students, my veteran ones, and asked them, could you
introduce me to Gold Star family, tell me a little bit about
the American military. And then I understood that
even though it’s been 10 years since they are back, they
never picked up the phone and called them, or went to meet with them because they never knew, again, when you fight here in United States you fight in another country. So someone is being
killed, there is a funeral, all his unit is back
there, is still fighting. Nobody’s coming back for the funeral. In Israel when it’s
happened, they will stop it and they will come and be with the family for the seven days and
then the family will have the opportunity to hear
stories about them. If one soldier feels guilty, you know for surviving, and his
friend has been killed he will be there with the
parents to ask the forgiveness. You know, the parents will react back and say it’s not your fault. They have, in a way it’s
kind of a treatment. While here, it’s not happening. And when they came back they
may not even be the same state. It’s a huge country, and they don’t know in which situation the family is at, and maybe if they pick up the
phone they will upset them. So they don’t do it, while
the family is waiting, still waiting, and they are
dying to hear about their sons and daughters and family members. And they won’t approach the soldiers because they don’t know
what situation they are at. And then I’m coming, and I’m
saying tell me your story. I’m asking, I’m coming, wherever
you are I will come to you. So I had to go through, I understand my students won’t help me, so then I had to go through organization, all private organizations,
civilian ones completely that help support and do events and attend events, and attend Memorial Day and start speaking with people, and through that I started to get, I got my first Gold Star families. Some students were helpful in saying, I know, and I have one
here, I know one family, let me approach them, and
he approached them first and they were willing to meet with me and then the connection has been made. Once I meet with a
family, it’s just amazing. They just want to tell their story. Even though it’s going through
the most hurting thing ever. But they want to tell it, because they don’t want people to forget. And there is a point, even
with the family member that they cannot keep talking
about it all the time, they will tell them stop, you know, we need to have some
kind of relief from it. So me coming, taking the
pictures, hearing the story, making their names being printed
means the world for them. – [Woman 3] Hi, in the process of editing were there any families
that you didn’t include in the book, or were there any families that didn’t have a story you wanted or was suitable enough
to include in the book, and how did you approach that? – That’s a great question. It was hard for me to meet
the families and the first one that came out was the
mothers, so for my show my first part of this
project, it was all women. It was mothers, wives, daughters. Then I understand that I have
to complete the family set, so a lot of families approach me but I couldn’t go and meet with them because I knew my resources are limited, and I want to hear the
other side of the family, the male side or the
same-sex side of the family, like different kinds of
families, and I met with them. So basically everyone that
I met with is in the book. Other people that I spoke with,
and I didn’t meet are not. – [Woman 4] Hi, thank you,
it’s just so powerful. I’m wondering, in your earlier work, even the work with the monuments, were you using writing, narrative? And if not, what is it about this project, do you feel like you’re a writer now? Or is part of being a
photographer also being a writer? – I think when you are a photographer you are a different kind of writer. I’m always telling my students that you need to read your photographs. Looking at photographs from John Jarkovski it’s always like that,
that’s the line of thought that when you look at a photograph it is a document that
you are able to read. I don’t think I’m a writer. It’s hard for me to think that way. In the texts, it’s not
something that I wrote, I edit. It’s all their words, I didn’t
add anything, I edited down. Yes it is the first time
that I incorporate text, I always had my statements, but
it’s not as massive as this, to have a book of it. But I saw it as a part
that cannot go without, like it has to come together. And a lot of the recent critique was that it’s not just a photography book. And it’s not, and that’s why
I think it’s so powerful. Because it can function
in so many other ways, than just a monograph or
series of photographs. It’s just a different
kind of photography book. – [Man 2] You know to build on that point that you were making, have you had people outside of the photography industry approach you or show an interest, or how has the book played out in other. – Yeah, so Maurice that
wrote for this book, in this book by the way,
there are four essays by Fred Ritchin, Stephen
Mayes, Carol Becker, and Maurice Emerson Decaul,
and he’s a former Marine that fought in Iraq and came back, and is now a poet and a playwright. We are talking about maybe
doing a play from those texts. But yes, there are other functions that I want the book to be,
or play in different ways. And also to have a traveling show for people to have it and be accessible to more than just the New York Audience. – [Host] Thank you so much Inbal. – Thank you. (applause)

local_offerevent_note October 12, 2019

account_box Matthew Anderson


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