Yaakov Israel’s The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey is a thoughtful meditation on the relationship between land and social history in his home country of Israel. Traveling by car and inspired by the American photo road trip, he assembled and collected these images from his chance meetings with the land and its people. While the background and context of this work is necessarily of a highly political nature, the path Israel follows is of a more mundane, personal, and poetically meditative tone, giving his images descriptive philosophical access to questions about land and history.
The backbone and strongest aspect of Yaakov’s book is his keen eye for describing land in such a way that illuminates its relationship with human artifice and history, while at the same time preserving what is wild, untamed and suprahistorical about it. It is precisely this suprahistorical perspective which Israel captures beautifully.
In one of the opening images we see a place, primarily ‘natural,’ that is, only minimally populated with evidence of the human world. Sharply jutting into the bottom left of the frame is the termination of a wall, which sputters out into a flaccid wire, signaling the haphazard and exhausted border of some construction project. While elements of human building are indeed prominent, the overall content is not of industry, but desert land, barren and bleak, while holding the scattered remains of some aborted human endeavor. It sets the tone well for the images to follow.
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