On May 16th 2018, guest blogger Dave Bradley went along to the Quaker Meeting House in Liverpool, UK, to hear about the art of protest photography from Ahmad Al-Bazz of ActiveStills.
ActiveStills is a collective of Israeli, Palestinian and international photographers, formed in 2005.
Their work sometimes covers international struggles, such as those of gold miners in South America, or protesters in Turkey.
However, their main focus is on the ongoing struggle of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. They are photographers who love their art, operate at a professional level and are determined to use images to tell the story of a colonised people, and to challenge their oppression.
Ahmad is one of the members of ActiveStills. He is near to the end of an MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia.
He comes across as a gentle, thoughtful young man who makes light of the challenges he has faced. I sensed a real humility – all photos were presented equally, with no special attention to his own.
Ahmad explained that West Bank Palestinians such as himself could only contribute work about the West Bank, while Israelis could cover Israel and the West Bank. Access to Gaza is so difficult that the contribution of internationals was needed.
ActiveStills stands against colonisation and oppression and stands for human rights and freedom. There are photos of houses trashed after the constant Israeli raids, of Palestinians treated like cattle at crossing points, of brutal arrests, of house demolitions.
I saw no glorification of violence either in Ahmad’s presentation or on the ActiveStills website. They resist ‘normalisation’, i.e. treating the occupation as normal and coexistence as advisable – on this, Ahmad was passionate.
Active Stills operates in a resistance framework and their work is based on the fundamental rights of Palestinians as expressed in international law and UN resolutions. South Africa is the example. There, reconciliation and forgiveness came after the end of apartheid, not before.
Sharing the images
So, if peaceful protest is the aim, apart from the website, what do they do with the images they capture?
Images are pasted on walls. The Israelis tear them down, or paint over them, but ActiveStills members persist. Images are carried in protests. Photos are used in court. Videos have been crucial in determining some cases.
Some photography has formed part of shared projects with overseas bodies, including British universities. Images are sometimes provided to media organisations that will take them, such as Al Jazeera. And, perhaps most importantly, the images live on the walls and in the hearts of ordinary people.
Images are powerful. Netanyahu’s recent presentation about Iran’s alleged nuclear preparations is an example. Whatever Iran’s plans, the photos were used to create a narrative of conspiracy and nuclear potential.
By contrast, no images exist of Israeli nuclear capability and so there is no narrative, no focus on that sinister probability.
In the 21st century, words are not enough. You have to have the images, to tell a story. So far as I could tell, ActiveStills and Ahmad are doing that with integrity and passion. More power to them.
See ActiveStills’ images at their website
Read more: ‘Activestills: How photography can become a means of protest’ by Vered Maimon and Shiraz Grinbaum