Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – 3 August 2018

This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up a feature interview with photojournalist Monique Jaques about her long-term project and book Gaza Girls: Growing Up in the Gaza Strip, published by FotoEvidence. 

Interview:

Monique Jaques – Gaza Girls: Growing Up in the Gaza Strip

I met Monique Jaques a few years ago at Visa pour l’image, around the time she made her first trip to the Gaza Strip. On this occasion she was covering the eight day war between Israel and Hamas. Jaques, a freelance photojournalist, is based in Istanbul. She struck me as a determined woman, passionate about telling stories that mattered. Not just stories that made the news headlines.

Since that first trip in 2013 Jaques has travelled to Gaza numerous times, pursuing a story that has not been told, that of the daily lives of Palestinian girls and young women.

Jaques says she was driven to document their “strength, creativity and vibrancy. I am awed and haunted by their tremendous resilience, even in the face of unimaginable adversity. I also see so much similarity between these teenaged girls and the teenaged girl I once was, despite our different circumstances”.

Sunset
Girls watch the sun set at the harbour in Gaza City. While living in Gaza is undeniably tough, being a woman there is harder.

At the heart of social documentary photography lies the common understanding of what it means to be human. In the pages of Jaques’ book, Gaza Girls: Growing Up in the Gaza Strip, she captures those qualities, taking us beyond the stereotypical visage of Gaza as a war zone.

Jaques shows us how these young women are just girls, with the same hopes and dreams as others their age. Acknowledging their life is a backdrop of conflict and deprivation, one can only marvel at such spirit. Imagine the depth of the soul that can summon joy and laughter even in the most horrendous conditions.

Nails
A girl shows off her Palestinian themed nails after a recent bombing campaign.

She says, “I felt like this work was a necessary contribution to the discussion around Gaza, which is so often centred around violence, and their stories could be amplified through a book with their writings and images”. 

“Gaza is a troubled land, and growing up there isn’t easy. It is a 45-square-mile district, isolated by towering concrete blast walls, reams of barbed wire and foreign soldiers who patrol its perimeters. After years of blockades and travel restrictions, the territory is isolated and shut o from the rest of the world. At night the never-ending buzz of drones lull you into a light sleep under their watchful din. If you stand on the beach you can see lights coming from Israel — a land that you will never be able to touch. Boundaries and surveillance define your existence. Families are tight and watchful. Many women say that in a place as small as Gaza it is impossible to be truly free.”

Blackout
Yara and her friends prepare a dance number during a blackout. Fuel is scarce in Gaza and many families only receive six to eight hours of electricity a day.

“Everyone you know is monitoring you — your brothers, cousins and neighbours. Everyone’s eyes are a camera, recording and judging your actions, possibly reporting them to your family. Due to spacial constraints in the Strip, multiple generations end up living in one building creating a tight knit micro-society. Add conservative Islam and bored family members looking to gossip to the mix and it creates tension and pressure for girls figuring out who they want to be.”

Doaa
Doaa in a friends bedroom. Girls that are un-married have few places to be themselves. Bedrooms and private cars are sanctuaries where girls can sing and dance without being judged by the public, or their own families.

The inclusion of the girls’ writings in the book gives further depth to the visual narrative. Doaa (above), a 27-year-old production assistant says, “I wish I could leave, even for one day, so I can go to a place where no one knows me.”

Singer08
Hadeel Fawzy Abushar 25 records a song in a studio in Gaza City. Few female singers remain as families and local government look down on the practice. Hadeel started when she was 12, as all of her sisters are singers.

Concert singer Hadeel Fawzy Abushar (above), 25 dreams of performing “in Ramallah, a city in the West Bank.”

Surfing06
Female Surfer, Sabah Abu Ghanem ,14 and her sister surf early in the morning outside of Gaza city. The sisters place first in many competitions inside the strip, but have never left the Gaza Strip to compete.

Champion surfers 14-year old Sabah Abu Ghanem, and her sister (above) “surf the waves on the Gaza beach before attending school”. They’d love to compete outside of the Strip, but as Jaques reveals, “in order to leave and enter another country you must be searched, inspected by an airport-style scanner and most of all lucky. Exit permits and visas to neighbouring countries are hard to come by.”

Yet despite the hardships, Jaques reveals “Gaza has one of the finest school systems in the Middle East, with nearly universal literacy. Many young women attend one of the several universities, eventually graduating to become writers, engineers and doctors yet still unable to fulfil their dreams of traveling. Many dream of leaving the strip to explore the world…though they also speak of returning. “It’s my home,” they say. “I love Gaza.” 

School
Nisreen Shawa, a worker for the Palestinian Medical Relief Foundation at the Hamza Bin Abd-el Muttalib School where they do art therapy and exercises with girls after the recent bombings.

In conclusion Jaques says, “life in the Gaza Strip is dicult. There is conflict, poverty, and only enough fuel to power electricity for a few hours a day. Two million people live within the Palestinian-controlled territory, roughly twice the size of the District of Columbia (US), making it one of the world’s most crowded places. The border crossings with its neighbours, Egypt and Israel, are both closed, and travel in and out is strictly controlled. Living here has been compared to being in an outdoor prison, or worse. What I really learned shooting this book is just how strong people can be in the toughest situations for the longest duration. These girls are tenacious, inspiring and determined.”

“Visiting Gaza is always emotionally demanding because you meet all these wonderful people who can’t leavebut you can.”

In the photography world I often hear people say there is nothing new left to photograph. I think these words are uttered by those who don’t know how to look. Jaques has a intuitive eye and the instinct of a journalist making Gaza Girls such a revealing and important book.

Mannequins

Mannequins in a shop near the main street of Gaza.

Gaza Girls is published by FotoEvidence, and is one of 16 books the publisher has released since it was founded in 2010. FotoEvidence’s mission is to publish long-form documentary photography projects focused on human rights and social injustice. I was privileged to sit on the jury of the annual FotoEvidence Book Award in 2016. To find out more visit FotoEvidence

Featured image: “According to a 2012 study, some 37% of women are subjected to domestic violence by their husbands.”

All images (C) Monique Jaques

 

 

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