Beyond myth, dogma and media narratives, Tanya’s work transports viewers through the sacred landscapes of Palestine-Israel.
Unseen Platform: How would you describe your working relationship with photography?
Tanya Habjouqa: I see myself as a wearer of multiple hats in order to gain access to different narratives. My background is in anthropology, whilst I worked for years in the humanitarian field, so I’ve tried to pick up respectful approaches to interviewing along the way. I see photography as a liberated form where we can borrow conceptual practices from art, psychology and beyond to enhance the narratives we want to convey. Marry this with investigative journalism and you have an enriched, nuanced approach to storytelling. I started life as a writer but noted early on that some scenes could be conveyed in a single image – without losing its layers and impact…that fascinated me!
Why the title Un/HOLY LAND?
The term “Holy Land” has been so overused in tourism, art and political contexts that it’s lost its meaning. The title was initially a tongue in cheek term I used when discussing the place, because when you’re living and documenting consistent inequalities of the most basic human rights, the term truly irks. It’s so often used by the state to justify policy under a supposed shroud of the “holy”. At the same time, I cannot deny the moments of beauty here. When you enter the underground Coptic well at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or visit Mount Gerizim at dawn, there’s an undeniable energy. I didn’t want to insult those who believe nor the beauty that does exist, so the title is a way to express that perpetual duality.
How do you distinguish your work visually from that of other practitioners working in the region?
I’m fluent in various visual languages, but the work that truly excites me involves having a subject participate in their representation…it’s always more interesting. There’s some truly brilliant photojournalists working here, but I find a lot of imagery lacks the colour, nuance or details of reality here. Narratives of the Middle East are often told in tired tropes. One of the facets of “othering” people is to strip them of diversity and vibrancy, and so it’s this vibrancy I reinstate: the humanity and the complex contradictions of real people.
From where do your relationships with those you photograph emerge?
Working in the Middle East, there is at times restricted access to the stories you ache to tell. With some of the people represented, a relationship is formed, whilst trust and mutual narratives are shared. Motherhood has been an easy lens through which to connect with people, regardless of their political or ethnic perspective. For me, there’s no greater gift than trust from someone allowing you to interpret their story.