Iuna Vieira, with her collegue Mafalda Rakos and graphic designer Raphael Reichl, decided to make a photographic response to the fractured and heated situation in Israel and Palestine. The three young professionals travelled throughout Israel and Palestine meeting people, hearing their stories and documenting them in what turned out to be the poignantly sensitive and humane multi-award winning publication 3rd Generation.
Iuna, interviewed here, talks about her experiences of her time in Israel (Mafalda Rakos produced the Palestinian side of the book) and how the project came together.
SB: Tell us about the origins of this idea. Three 18 year old friends decide to go to Gaza?! How did this crazy idea come about? What did you set out to achieve?
IV: First of all, we didn’t go to Gaza, we went to Israel and to the West Bank. Back then it didn’t seem like a crazy idea at all, rather like a logical next step.
I went to Israel in the summer before starting 3rd Generation (2011) joining an international summer course from the Organisation “UWC”. There was no personal connection or any particular reason I wanted to know more about this part of the world, just pure interest. After I returned I kept comparing how the media showed the conflict with what my new Israeli and Palestinian friends had to say. Around the same time my classmate Mafalda and I had to choose a topic for our diploma work and we decided to focus exactly on that: thoughts, opinions, feelings and experiences Israelis and Palestinians of our age associate with the conflict. We wanted to show a human, individual and personal view on the conflict and to share the ability to see it through the eyes of someone our age that lives with it on a daily basis.
What did you learn on your journey? What surprised you about your findings?
Mainly I got to know great and inspiring people who impress me with what they have to say, weather I agree with it or not. Secondly, I developed a deep passion about the Middle East as an area, especially Israel and Palestine. Becoming so emotionally engaged in a conflict that is not even mine surprised me the most. While travelling, making interviews and taking pictures I also learned something about myself: I am not a photographer. At least I am not only a photographer. The research, listening to personal stories, asking the right questions… All of those became equally important as photography to me.
How did your family feel about this?!
Well, they were not impressed. We kind of pulled the ‘We are 18 and do what we want card’ and they quickly understood that the decisions had already been made. On one hand they trusted us and they knew that the trip was very well planned but I guess they were also relieved when we returned. At least my grandmother was.
Did you have any frightening or particularly memorable experiences?
Couch surfing in an Israeli settlement located in the West Bank or ‘Judea and Samaria’ as they call it was something I was terrified of. All the stereotypes we, as Western-Europeans have in mind – right wing extremists, Jewish-fanatics, radical Zionists. In the end those days I spent working in Ariel were maybe the most remarkable ones. The students I met were great individuals, extremely hospitable and a lot of them feel misunderstood by western media. They had a great need to share their thoughts and to tell their stories. That was when I taught myself to truly listen to an opinion that is the complete opposite to my own without judging. I want this skill to be key to whatever I might end up doing in the future.
How did the book design come about? What do you feel it adds to the concept of the work?
The credits for that go to our great graphic designer Raphael Reichl.
The idea is that the two books, one symbolising the Israeli and the other symbolising the Palestinian side, are separated but still connected. The linen that holds them together is the fence, the visual border between one book and the other. The landscape pictures between the chapters go over both books, illustrating the most essential connection between them and between Israel and Palestine: the land.
The text seems important to the final outcome of this project. How did you record the words? Edit them down? Can you give us an insight into what was going through your minds as you put this all together? Did you agree on that aspect of the publication and how did you figure it out if not?
The text is a very essential part of the book. We recorded our talks with our protagonists; most of them were spontaneous conversations rather than interviews. I changed very little of those original recordings for the book. I didn’t feel any need to write additional personal texts because in my opinion the photographer has enough influence through the editing, the sequencing, and the decision on which parts to use when; everything is equally important.
It was clear from the beginning that 3rd Generation is about each individual story as a whole, thus we needed both: text and photography. The main and most basic concept of 3rd Generation is to ask young Israelis and Palestinians to speak up and to tell their own story. Through the pictures you can see our perspective of their realities while the text gives you their perspective told in their very own words.
You are such a young photographer! How did you know you wanted to be involved in photography so seriously? What are your aspirations and what have you learnt so far?
That is a good question! I usually hate it when photographers write something like “I started to photograph when I was 9 years old..” in their bios. If we are honest, the kind of photography produced by a 9 year old is most probably crap. I would say I tried to photograph when I was really young and I was very lucky to live in Vienna where I had the opportunity to visit a school, ‘die Graphische,’ offering professional education in photography and media-related subjects starting from the age of 14. During those five years at school I got deeper and deeper into the subject and quickly focused on reportage and social documentary photography. Together with school or friends I visited photo-festivals like the ‘Lumix – festival for young photojournalism’ in Hannover, Visa pour l’image in Perpignan or the Vienna Photobook Festival, all of those were a great inspiration and showed us that we were far from achieving what those exhibitors achieved. The Lumix was the first Photo-Festival I visited, I was 16 years old and it is where all my childish dreams about becoming a famous photographer started, so I would really like to exhibit there one day, but that feels really far away right now.
Photojournalist or artist? What is the main distinction for you and where would you like to be positioned?
None of those. I would like to be a ‘concerned photographer’, to use photography as the intermediary between the subject, society, and politics. There is a quote: “To know one must imagine” by the french art-historian and philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman and I would want that to become my approach to photography.
What impact is your new school having on the direction of your career?
When you grow up in a certain system you start to question it once you start to grow up, right? I grew up in and with photography and I’m currently experiencing a kind of ‘late puberty’ when it comes to that. For the past six years photography has been the only thing on my mind. During the realization of 3rd Generation I began to feel that this one medium is not enough for me anymore. I began to think very critically about photography’s impact on global issues like conflicts, poverty and injustice. I want to learn. Learn how to ask the right questions, learn Arabic, learn how to write and how policy works and then, in the end, I want to learn how to combine those skills with photography. That is why I chose to move to the Netherlands and to study International Studies.