NEW YORK, NY.-
Award-winning Israeli photographic artist Inbal Abergil has an on-going interest in the visual representation of war. This has led her to look beyond the phenomenon of large scale public monuments that pay tribute to fallen heroes to focus instead on the private displays of mementos and personal shrines maintained by families in memory of loved ones killed in military conflict. As a former soldier in the Israeli Air Force in a country where military service is compulsory for most citizens, she was curious to explore the culture of the American military where there has not been a draft since the Vietnam War, and today less than 0.5% of American citizens serve in the armed forces.
From 2014-2017, Abergil traveled across the United States to photograph and interview eighteen American families who lost family members in wars spanning World War II and The Vietnam War to the on-going conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. These families welcomed Abergil into their homes because they had a burning desire to share with the world the stories of their spouses and partners, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, who died while serving their country.
These powerful photographs and testimonies are published for the first time in N.O.K.: Next of Kin
(Daylight Books, November 11, 2017). The book is presented in two volumes: Part I is the plate section; Part II presents transcriptions of Abergil's interviews with family members who are all asked by Abergil to recall the exact moment when the military's "casualty information officers" walked up the driveway of their home, rang the doorbell, and informed them of their loss. Her images and text capture the initial shock and its aftermath.
Abergil's direct and compassionate photographs depict highly personal, mostly everyday objects, that she found in garages, basements, attics, storage lockers, living rooms and bedrooms. There are photographs, letters, a pair of old shoes, a cap, a dress watch, a string of pearls, a bible open to a highlighted passage, medals, brass buttons preserved in plastic, a holiday ornament with the name "Chris" on it, a stuffed toy camel, a pressed military uniform on a hanger, and a wedding ring.
In her essay in the book, "The Memory of Things," Carol Becker writes: "By presenting each object in isolation, Abergil has turned the photograph into a small shrine, a site of remembrance that captures the preciousness of each object. She has found a form within which to contain the aura that these objects radiate for those who cherish them ...That a representation of objects saved by families, accompanied by narrative, is able to conjure such resonant meaning is a tribute to the artist's commitment to convey the power and uniqueness of the act of mourning."
N.O.K. honors the dead while at the same time giving voice to a community of survivors who keep memory alive as they strive to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of loss. Abergil believes this response from the families is a necessary part of the public discourse on war and its aftermath.
In his essay in the book "Still Life," Stephen Mayes writes: "The contradictions exposed with such eloquence in these most turbulent of still lives are both an intellectual and an emotional expression of the conflicts and confusions that roil in the lives of those who have survived. For while they depict intimate glimpses of the dead, they more truly speak of the pain of the living."
Inbal Abergil is a visual artist and an educator, originally from Jerusalem, and the recent recipient of the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Grant. She holds an M.F.A. in Visual Art from Columbia University (2011), and received a B.F.A. with honors from the Midrasha School of Art (2007). Her work has been exhibited internationally in museum and gallery exhibitions. Abergil is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Rabenovich Prize from Tel Aviv's Department of Art & Culture (2004), The America-Israel Cultural Foundation (2002) and the Artis Grant Program (2012). Her series Nothing Left Here But The Hurt has been nominated for the prestigious Prix Pictet Photography Prize (2012). In 2015, N.O.K. was selected for fiscal sponsorship with Artspire, a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). Abergil is an Assistant professor of Photography at Pace University.
Fred Ritchin is Dean of the International Center of Photography (ICP) School. In 2017 he received the John Long Ethics Award from the National Press Photographers Association; Carol Becker is a writer and the Dean of Faculty and Professor of the Arts at Columbia University School of the Arts; Maurice Emerson Decaul is a former Marine and a poet, essayist, and playwright, whose writing has been featured in the New York Times, The Daily Beast, Sierra Magazine, Epiphany, among other publications. Stephen Mayes is the Executive Director of the Tim Hetherington Trust and former VII Photo CEO.