28 June 2012
Towell’s testimony of unrest in Gaza
No Man’s LandBy Larry Towell with a foreword by Robert Delpire. Chris Boot, £50<br>
Like the legendary French photographer Robert Doisneau, Canadian Larry Towell is a reluctant traveller, preferring the gentler things in life (such as farming his 75-acre Ontario farm) but travel he does. This reluctance only heightens the importance Towell places on the stories he chooses to take up, and which motivate him to travel often great distances.
As Robert Delpire points out in his introduction to No Man’s Land, Towell is unconventional in the world of photojournalism: his business card simply reads ‘Human Being’, and the classic image of the photojournalist dressed in combat fatigues is about as far removed as it is possible to get from Towell in his peasant garb and light-coloured straw hat which never fail to mark him out in a crowd.
Towell is a photographer fully engaged with the social issues of the day, an ally of what Delpire calls the ‘dispossessed, evicted, exiled, scorned, lost’. His intimate photographs are taken with great understanding and commitment, and here within the pages of this book we begin to understand the daily lives of the people of the Gaza strip, a rectangle of dry sandy coastal plane, sandwiched between Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean sea occupying a mere 360 square kilometers which has seen more than its fair share of unrest.
Towell’s previous book Mennonites (Phaidon, 2000) won a D&AD silver in 2001 for its design, a collaboration between Quentin Newark at Atelier and the photographer. For No Man’s Land Towell has chosen to work alone – a growing trend that has seen fellow Magnum member Eugene Richards develop his own design concepts and layout for recent books such as The Fat Baby (Phaidon, 2004).
Towell’s design, with its large landscape format, is clean and simple, with a distinctive binding: a 4mm board attached to the front and back covers of what otherwise would be a paperback. But it is not the design that will make you struggle with your conscience and question man’s inhumanity but the photographs.
Through Towell’s eyes we see the living hell of Gaza. Death, anger and destruction litter the landscape. Walls, both physical and psychological separate its people. Still through all this darkness we see hope – maybe only a glimmer, but it is there. As Delpire so rightly points out, ‘Towell is a giant among photographers, such is his understanding of human suffering, his empathy with people enraged at being unable to live a normal human life.’ But the last word must go to Towell himself: ‘I believe that international opinion will some day end this tragedy and allow two equal and respected countries to exist side by side. If this is not accomplished by the children of WWII veterans, it must be taken up by their grandchildren, those selling poppies today. But God help us all if it takes that long.’