Secret Histories | Yoav Horesh Explores the “Aftermath” of Terrorist Attacks

Photo: May 19, 2003, Amakin Mall, Afula. Photographed: January 2004 (detail).

Israeli photographer Yoav Horesh remembers a formative moment many years ago while walking with his father through a pedestrian mall in downtown Jerusalem on the way to buy new shoes. “A block behind us, a guy came running down the street, shooting an AK 47 and throwing hand grenades. My father pulled me into an alley, and in three or four minutes, everything was over. [The gunman] was probably shot dead; the ambulances came. Then my father said, ‘Okay, we’re going to buy shoes now.’”

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“Is it right or not? I don’t have an answer,” Horesh observes, pondering the implications of an immediate return to normalcy. But the question remains. It is a question that has affected Horesh in ways he’s just beginning to actualize through his work as a photographer, which takes on the subject of trauma with thought, concern, and tremendous care.

August 9, 2011. Sbarro Pizzeria, Jerusalem. Photographed: August 2003.

We live in a world littered with images, under a constant bombardment of devastation, destruction, and death as the media cycles images of pain over and over again. Yesterday’s tragedy is quickly replaced by today’s latest display of blood and guts. It sometimes seems like the more horrific it is, the bigger the headlines are. The cumulative effect is disturbing in more ways than one: some people are rendered numb while others are kept in a never-ending state of PTSD that frays their jangled nerves and damages their DNA. Yet it seems for all the carnage we consume, we rarely become activated. Where, just four decades ago, Nick Ut’s photograph of the “The Terror of War” helped to end the Vietnam War; today we simply accept the carnage as part of our daily digital scroll (unless, of course, it is censored, which was Facebook’s first response to Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph).

Our attempts at normalcy, whatever that means, make Horesh wonder: What happens after the damage is done? What happens to the people, the places, the way we live our daily lives, the way our governments function? Although the actual terrorist attack is over, the impact of trauma continues, sometimes, seemingly without end. Horesh describes the affect as a pebble creating ripples across the pond, ripples of trauma that destroyed people’s lives on both sides of the divide. While the Israeli government rushes in to clean up the damage, erasing all traces of the attack, victims are forced to deal with the aftermath on their own. There are no memorials or monuments to the victims of terrorist attacks; Horesh notes that if there were, you wouldn’t be able to walk through downtown Jerusalem without seeing one on ever block.

December 1, 2001. Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem. Photographed: January 2004.

It was 9/11 that made Horesh question this. As a college student in Boston during the time of the attack, he observed the American response through Israeli eyes. Where Israel sought to erase, America sought to preserve, but what both countries had in common was a desire for retribution from those they held responsible. At the same time, there is the reality that few are equipped to handle: the nature of trauma and the way in which it changes the people for the rest of their lives.

Horesh began researching Israeli sites of terrorist attacks, setting a list of parameters in an otherwise vast history of the nation’s six-decade existence. In a period of two and a half years, he documented more than 100 locations in Israel. Forty-four of these images were selected for Aftermath, his first book, just released from SPRQ Editions.

Aftermath is a mediation on a people and a place, on terrorism and trauma, and on photography itself. Horesh asks, “What does it mean to offer a moment of contemplation? Does the place have its own memory and history? Do we have to see carnage, blood, and broken glass to understand what happened? As a photographer, I know that a photograph can never really describe reality. The prism is to narrow. There is no sound, no smell, other things are outside of the frame. When I first showed the work, there were no titles underneath it. Do you look at the photographs differently now that you know? Does it change our reception of the place?”

January 25, 2002, Ha’Gdood Halvry Street, Tel Aviv. Photographed: February 2013.

These questions tie directly to the central tenet of erasure: to disappear something from sight and mind will allow us to forget, and for those who never experienced it, the truth will never surface. This became a subject Horesh had to deal with in order to take the photographs. While the reports listed the street intersections, they did not directly identify the locations. To find the sites of the attacks, Horesh would speak with locals like cab drivers and store workers, the people who knew the streets. Then he would set up a large or medium format camera to photograph the scene.

A couple of times, people stopped to ask what he was doing. “I was setting up my tripod, looking at a tree, when one guy asked, ‘What the hell are you looking at?’ I told him, ‘There was a suicide bombing here.’” Horesh remembers. The man had forgotten, or he never knew. The attack had been erased—from the street and from the public memory as well.

But the physical absence does not negate the psychological or emotional damage of the people who survive. Horesh observes, “There are those who died, who were injured, and those who were hurt emotionally—and all of these families affected by it. I’m also talking about the Palestinians. After a suicide bombing, the Israel government would order an arrest, an assassination, or demolish houses as a way of ‘curbing’ on terrorism—but they we were also ‘curbing’ on the population.”

July 17, 2002, Neve Sharon Street, Tel Aviv. Photographed: July 2004.

Horesh continues, “In .125 of a second is all it takes for an explosion to occur—just like a photograph in a sense. Every event affects hundreds of people for days, months—for life. Hundreds and thousands of people, Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Aftermath is a significant book on the necessity of bringing trauma out from the shadows and into the light, to opening conversations that people do not want to have, out of fear, out of pain, out of the inability to articulate the horror that has scarred their hearts, bodies, and minds. It is a powerful, poignant, and noble effort to keep us focused on the here and now, on the fact that long after you scroll on by those pictures of carnage, life goes on. And though we can repair the roads and fix the buildings and try to put everything back together again, we cannot undo the damage that has been done.

Aftermath offers no answers or solutions because we are too far from such a place. It does what it must: it asks us to question our beliefs, assumptions, and our ignorance. It asks us to go beyond what we see—or do not see. It asks us to remember those who are no longer able to speak. And it does this quietly, without flash or crass, without exploiting the wounds, but rather allowing us to reflect on them as they are today, both as sites of memory and sites of erasure.

All photos: © Yoav Horesy, courtesy of SPQR Editions.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.

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