Book Review: Lili Almog’s “Between Presence and Absence”

Image Above: ©Lili Almong (Window #2).



We are tied to our homes, our families, our identities. Each one is inextricably linked to the next. The earth, its inhabitants and its structures are in a ceaseless state of transformation. Photography is a medium that captures their stages of metamorphosis.

A question for photographers is how can art seize a moment, and offer a creative parallel to the nature of time?

For Lili Almog, the Kibbutz Beit Oren in the Carmel Forest represents her home and her socio-cultural heritage. In her book “Between Presence and Absence,” she poignantly documents the aftermath of the 2010 forest fire that killed 41 people, displaced thousands of others and burned acres of forestland in the Beit Oren valley.

©Lili Almong (Left: Rear Facade #5; Right: Rear Facade #3).



Presence and absence are contingent on the notion of being. They explicitly rely on the states in which they exist. Images and representations of these states render absence and presence relative by presenting forms that transcend time. By capturing the true state of physical structures and compiling them into a wider narrative, Almog assigns meaning to forms of presence and absence. Her work urges the reader to wonder if absence is a type of presence and if presence is a type of absence.

That Almog’s mother passed away two months prior to the fire accentuates the impermanence and unpredictability of life. Almog’s images of exteriors and interiors of ruined houses in the Kibbutz allude to the infinite rise and fall of the material and physical world. The photos of barren landscapes, derelict apartment houses and remnants of human activity emphasize the end of a chapter in history and in Almog’s life. Dilapidated rooms with caved in ceilings, traces on the walls of picture frames and bookshelves, and forgotten undergarments evoke a heartrending sense of the temporal and the evanescent.

©Lili Almong (Left: Rear Facade #1; Right: Rear Facade #4).



The monograph also invites the reader to view the architecture and landscape as a channel to the past and present and how socio-political factors can influence community values.

Since its beginnings in the 1950s, the Kibbutz has been a symbol of national identity for the modern state of Israel. The identical apartment buildings housed the influx of new immigrants. The communal style of living provided an alternative to possessive notions of the home found in the bourgeois way of life.Due to economic pressures along with the rise of capitalism and individualism, utilitarian ideals gave way to modern demands.

©Lili Almong (Trace Underwear).



By the 1990s, each family in the Beit Oren was given a lot on which to build, further reinforcing the acquisitive element of modern reality. After the fire, the community has spiraled downward due to a lack of concern by members and the cost of construction. In 2012, the remains of the houses affected by the fire were demolished.

The transmuted geographical layout of the Beit Oren resonates with Almog, who relates her individual loss to the inevitable decay and natural destruction of her homeland. Almog’s photography beautifully captures the links between family, identity and the home. She writes, “no roots no trees no family no me.”

The first limited edition monograph is available through A.R. printing Inc.

by Shershah Atif

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