MANCHESTER DIARY
Michal sees all from window

VANTAGE POINT: Michal Ronnen Safdie

PERCHED up on a hill in the Old City of Jerusalem, along the fragile border between the Jewish and Muslim Quarters, is the home of Michal Ronnen Safdie.

Facing east, it overlooks the Western Wall precinct, the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque.

To the north unfolds the Muslim Quarter with Mount Scopus in the skyline; to the west, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Christian Quarter.

The photographer has the perfect vantage point and understanding of this tense city, which has led her to compile Under My Window (powerHouse Books).

“I did a book 20 years ago focusing on the Western Wall, which featured close-up photographs of the wall,” Michal told me from Massachusetts, where she divides her time with Jerusalem.

“This book came about having lived in a particular area of Jerusalem for 40 years. I have seen it develop and change over the years.

“You are constantly living with the human and architectural aspects and the friction between the different communities which live there.”

The book, which features an introduction from Israel writer Avi Shavit, also captures personal moments, alongside large-scale public events in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem-raised Michal (nee Ronnen) said: “Over time, I felt like I had a story to tell about the layering of the city and its people.

“In Jerusalem, you are living with history all the time.

“When you perform a simple activity, such as going to the market to buy tomatoes, you see all the history and monuments.

“Jerusalem means something different, even to people who live in Israel.

“Just recently, I was on a flight to Massachusetts next to a young man from Tel Aviv and he felt completely shielded by what happens in Jerusalem.

“He reads about what happens there in the newspapers, but that is it.”

The 67-year-old, who was born to Hungarian Vera, who survived the concentration camps, and Australian Meir, was educated in sociology and anthropology.

Married to architect Moshe Safdie, she initially worked in photographing architectural models.

She later moved into socio-political photographs, snapping refugees from Darfur, migrant workers’ quarters in East Asia, and war crime trials in Rwanda, among other issues, and her photographs have been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world.

She and Moshe bought their home next to the Western Wall in 1994.

“You can see the wall and the rooftops of the city and the mosques — it is overwhelming and a very unique place,” Michal continued.

“And, when you start looking at the details, you realise that Jerusalem is a complicated place which has a lot of contradictions. There are beautiful and difficult moments.”


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