Different people see different things when the look at Moria Lahis‘ series of sepia-toned black and white photos.
“One person saw a Palestinian boy. Another one thought it was a Native American. A Russian man who came to the exhibit, kept hanging around, didn’t want to leave. He said it reminded him not of his own childhood but of things that were told to him about his parents’ childhood in Ukraine”.
The photos evoke a feeling of the past, of days gone by. In actuality, the only thing that is antique about Lahis’ photos is the photographic medium employed: the series was shot on expired film and developed using traditional darkroom methods, rather than produced digitally.
The subject matter is also contemporary; the young “boy” in question is actually her daughter and the surroundings are local. But the graininess evokes a sense in the viwer that they are seeing something old. Lahis says she came to the medium from painting, “and it is the closest thing, for me, to painting”.
“I started to buy expired film in batches — because of digital they were easy to get — and started to experiment. I am a serial documentarian. I realized I could document the present and have it look like the past, like something from a dream”.
Darkroom work, she says, was also a moving experience. “You develop [the photograph] very delicately to see what comes out, what is hiding underneath. Things are revealed and they aren’t how you imagined. Memory is not objective; it transforms your reality. It was very moving to deal with these photos.”
“It was very interesting. During the last exhibit, everyone had something to say — people saw details that I hadn’t seen while photographing or developing. I felt like I was a conduit for something that was bigger than myself”.
A graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, who has exhibited in Europe, the US and Israel, Lahis has now moved on to fresh subjects and film that is well within its expiration date. “This last series closed this chapter of my work on collective memory”.
That’s for now, at least. Meanwhile, the images, like memories, persist. Unlike memories, they can be viewed in the present, along with other of her works, at Moria Lahis’ website.