There is no exception to the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” When looking at the photo above, a cluster of words come to mind: chaos, disorder and injustice. In the middle of a field, an olive tree stands, against all odds.
Valerian Mazataud, a French photojournalist and former Concordian staff photographer, who is now based in Montreal, is presenting his photo exhibit Palestine, the Olive Wars at Espace Projet until Oct. 28.
The exhibit includes 11 photographs that reveal the violence brought about by the conflicts between the Israeli and Palestinian people. The olive trees located in the West Bank are being cut down, burned and destroyed, while harvests are being stolen. The reason for this devastation is the enduring animosity between Israel and Palestine.
The artist’s photographs are stunning, from hefty, tall trees to images of Palestinian civilians and soldiers to surrounding greenery. His careful composition encapsulates the essence of his project: a torn civilization in dire need of rescue. Each photograph, with its earth tone colors and serious subject, takes the viewer by the hand and guides them carefully through Mazataud’s travels. Throughout his stay in Palestine during Oct. and Nov. 2009, he taught photography classes for the NGO Project Hope in Nablus, West Bank, where he collaborated with other NGOs and built significant contacts.
“Palestine is the knot of contemporary global issues,” Mazataud stated affirmatively. The olive gathering was once a cheerful tradition maintained among the people of Palestine. It brings together the Mediterranean people by representing peace and maintaining traditional values. Not only are the olive trees symbolic, but they also contribute to Palestine’s national economy during its harvest period.
Because the conflicts over the land are so deeply rooted in the past, Mazataud wants the viewer to understand the role of the Palestinian farmers and that of the Jewish settlers in its historical context. The strife dates back decades, and Palestinians and Israelis are still fighting over whether areas in Jerusalem belong to the Jewish or Arab communities. “The relationship between Palestine and Israel is a grey situation, it is not black and white,” Mazataud said with conviction.
In addition to providing insight into the Palestinian issue, Mazataud also shared advice for students. He is a strong believer in critical thinking and encourages the idea of questioning all news.
Other global issues are just as complex as Palestine’s discord. Mazataud emphasized, “The answers are not crystal clear and we need to conduct our own research, beyond the Internet or the news on television.”
Rather than remain unreceptive, he wants students “to take action and to be reactive.” Then, form opinions, learn more about relevant issues and spread the knowledge.
For journalists and photographers who wish to travel and document their work abroad, Mazataud said that all that is needed is the willpower and the motivation to continue. However, such a project involves a few key points: contacts and collaboration with other associations are vital.
At the moment, Mazataud is working on getting as much exposure as he can with his work. He also works as an independent journalist for Le Devoir,The Hour, and ZUMA Press, among others.
Mazataud’s photographs do indeed have a story to tell, hopefully one which will resolve in peaceful terms and restore ties between two cultures.
Palestine, the Olive Wars is at Espace Project, 353, rue Villeray, until Oct. 28.