julia komissaroff – kitab al-balad

[slidepress gallery=’juliakomissaroff-kitabalbalad’]

Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls

Julia Komissaroff

Kitab al-Balad

play this essay


I call it “Kitab al-Balad” – the Book of the City. 11 years I’ve been
 circling in the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. This is a 
transformation of the City and me, the story how we became the one. 
Some time ago conflict and politics where important to me, now I just
 enjoy good tea with menta leaves, looking at old men and children. Doing what I do the best – my photography.



Julia Komissaroff was born in Riga (Latvia) in 1977. Her family moved to Israel in 1991, when she was still a teenager. Julia has lived in Jerusalem ever since, where she is now raising her two children.

She sees herself as an independent photographer. She involved in socially important projects, with specific areas of interest are Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Works with an Arab-Jewish human rights organization Taayush as well with Norwegian Refugee Council. Her photographs were used in the design of cd’s and posters of known Russian Rock groups. In 2006 together with the photographer David Dector, Julia Komissaroff opened the Jerusalem Seminar of Photography which is the first Russian photo school in Israel.


Related links

Julia Komissaroff


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

35 Responses to “julia komissaroff – kitab al-balad”

  • This is a wonderfully evocative series, if a bit long and slightly repetitive. There are some stunning standout images in there…the early card playing pictures were a hit with me. I spent a month in Jerusalem and the West Bank late last year and this took me back exactly to how I remember it. lovely

  • The photos are great. Too many of them and too repetitive, but great. I’m not sure it works as an “essay,” though. But appreciate a photographer actually shooting in their own back yard for a change.

  • I also really enjoyed it. Reading the statement afterwards resolved most of the question I had about lack of captions. I would have liked to know a bit more about some of them. I like your project and your pics.

  • and i thought i was done ;)))

    I have loved Yulia’s work since we first met almost 10 years ago….and I have loved “Kitab al-Balad”….the second photograph has been one of my favorite photographs from East Jerusalem for many many years….and as Yulia knows, it is one of the pictures that I wish to have when Marina and I finally get the opportunity to sit down with she and Davidka in Jerusalem or Moskva…

    for readers who do are not familiar with Yulia’s work, I would ask that you take a look at both her work in Israel but also her work in Russia and Georgia and Ireland….both she and her husband are talent, intelligent passionate photographers who are also remarkable people….Yulia’s photographs of her husband and two children also, for me, constitute some of the most imaginative and beautiful ‘family albums’ on the planet…..a friend and colleague, I am very very happy that “Kitab al-Balad” has alighted upon this site…and yes, it will be a book…

    of all the photojournalists, I tried to help get published, my heart is most close to this essay…

    Jim P :))))…see i wasnt such a bad editor-at-large ;)))…..

    a fierce independent vision committed to photographing the life of her world…and one who refuses to surrender…

    Юл :)))

    Я очень рад, что, наконец, ваша книга была опубликована здесь, на BURN. Я работал очень трудно сделать это реальностью для вас. Я очень рада, что David Harvey верил в работе, как я всегда верил в этот проект, и эти фотографии. Я говорю Марине также написать вам несколько слов. Как вы знаете, это большая, крепкая, красивая фотография, и я всегда любила его! Большие обнимает вас, Давид и мало львов. Я посылаю вас целует и обнимает.


  • BOB…

    you will never be “done”…

    many thanks for bringing Julia to our attention…i will keep an eye on her work from now on…

    cheers, david

  • Julia, really beautiful work. I love that you can tell its film and I also love the way in most of them the subjects have that feeling of being unaware of the photographer.

  • Julia, excellent work! Beautiful images!
    Having just come back from the Old City shooting the Tisha Be’Av worshipers at the Wailing Wall, let me tell you – you’re one brave lady! Many of the shots displayed were taken in situations that must have been intimidating, to say the least.
    Take care!

    Nir Alon
    Jerusalem, Israel
    http://TIPUSIM.com in Jerusalem

  • Thanks Boba I always liked your words about my photography and thanks David for all of this!

  • WOW.

    Very Very Well Done!

    There are a lot of excellent images here. 11 years? There must be a book in the making. Please let me know when it is published!

  • Im so happy to see this essay here! Beautiful work that I’ve always admired, and also your craziness and your fearlessness and determination as a photographer. Love your pictures Yul’ka :)))
    Поздравляю Юлькин! обнимаю обоих :)

  • BEAUTIFUL images..
    so many details….
    great color..
    felt as if I was
    with you..
    in the old city…
    meandering thru the streets….
    lots of information
    and questions
    within a frame….
    tighter edit needed,
    but your images are strong…

  • Some stunning images, really impressive.

  • Lovely, lovely photos out of the most interesting .35 square mile area in the world.

  • Great photos indeed.
    This is not meant to be an “essay” I believe, there’s no topic other than life in Jerusalem from a local photographer and I love it!
    The repetitiveness might not be something that is desirable in a strictly topical essay but this is life, everyday life, with it’s hardships and joys, dullness and excitement, beauty and ugliness…. It even deals with the sensitive issue of occupation without being news or war photography. It has that genuine passer-by feeling that takes you there and it’s original.
    Thumbs up all around then.

    Congratulations Julia for the publication, and I truly love your website.

  • Everyday life is definitely what it is, the essay doesn’t have a strict beginning -> conclusion progress, I like the way it just flows and covers a lot of the less obvious sides of the city. Nonetheless you get a lot of energy in the photographs from shooting in a city filled with that much contrasts… the pictures make me feel. Personally I never seem to get used to looking at wide-angle-lense-distortion, but it doesn’t bother me too much in this essay.

    Looking forward to see how the book turns out.

  • I’m speechless.

    You are an inspiration. Amazing work, masterful. amazing, I can’t say enough. words fail.

  • Beautiful images, moving, live, passionate, probably every day life… I love the vibrant colours, some images are stronger than others of course, but so well done.

  • Beautiful …..

  • Incredible work Julia!! This is the kind of New Documentalism they tell you about at the school of photography, but that you don’t get to see that often… Bravo!

  • Great photography is great photography. What else to say.

  • just wonderful. thanks so much for sharing it. i very much respect your approach to what you do, an inspiration to us all.

  • Julia, I think you’ve got some beautiful images here. The description suggests this is a piece about the Jerusalem’s Old City, not just East Jerusalem as it says on your website. Having spent time in the Old City myself, I know it is an incredibly diverse place, a haven for several major religions. What is posted here looks like only the Arab-Muslim quarter, and shows Israeli soldiers bullying people. While that is certainly an aspect of the Old City’s story, it is hardly the whole story. Titles and captions may be a small detail, but I believe it’s important to label work appropriately to avoid miscommunication in a situation that is so hotly debated. That said, I really enjoyed looking at your website and the way you clearly organize various viewpoints in Israel/Palestine.

  • Gustav Liliequist

    Beautiful pictures in every way. I just love it.

  • Very nice, I particularly like the depth of a lot of the photos.

  • Ok, sorry but time for some criticism.
    11 years in this place, which has undergone so much change been in and out of the news so often.
    This is great stock photography, every picture could be put to any number of different stories, viewpoints, dispositions. Ones pictures either bolster or dismantle viewers views, 11 years of holiday snaps from the troubled land are powerless. Nothing challenging the stagnant views pervading our media. Cliche irony says nothing about society, capturing Nice colours, very wide lenes that make us feel like we are there with the explorer, look good in print, on sunday, in our armchairs, traveling no to far, from the tv.
    I’m an angry young man, but what troubles me is that after 11 years you have not developed something beyond journalism, what I mean is that nothing seems to have changed your relationship with the subject. None of these photos for me go beyond the surface of things (and therfore remain purely journalistic in their approach). Photography is a powerfull weapon, mainly now though in coercion. I still long to see photography that is challenging something ridiculous buried deep in our minds. Sorry

  • thank you for sharing your vivid vision! most of the images are outstanding: I would just remove #12, #22, #29, #31 and #32, which appear weaker imo.
    Great work!

  • Julia

    You are an ambassador with a camera…..beautiful work…..don’t stop…..ever.

    medford taylor

  • Beautiful images in a provocative and volatile city. Beauty seems to be be found whenever we look closely or long enough.

    Congratulations and all the best,


  • I have looked at the essay a few times, and I must say I pretty much agree with Nathaniel’s take on the pictures. More derivative than insightful. It all seems like hapahazard scenes you fell upon or chose, strolling here and there, many don’t go beyond what one would expect from a touristic photographer (nothing wrong with that, but it underlines the outside looking in, “surface of things” approach), even the ones with the gunned uniformed men, where you seem to have crossed the street to snap at, between shots of a kid with a ball, then old men playing cards.

    Jerusalem is a city that has much resonance nowadays, geographically and politically, relative to the palestino-israeli shenanigan, showing some of that complexity, tension, duality, thru visual means (not just camera-reporting an arrest, a scuffle) is paramount for vibrant docu, photojournalist essaying.

    Some of the shots do indeed arrest us, their mood, nervousness do convey a climate, which for being understated (a quality in P.), do lift a veil and poke our imagination. i think of the first shot of card-playing with all the hands, or the one with the man glancing away with a (blood?) red carpet acting as curtain to a stage, behind him. Often with the same shuttering sleigh of hand, what difference, what magic there can be between capturing an impression, gleaned off the surface of things, and a mere snap of that surface!

  • The pictures aren’t bad. But they don’t hit me in the gut. With the exception of the second picture, I find most of them to be pretty predictable. DAH constantly talks about the importance of authorship here (and previously on roadtrips). I guess I dont see any real authorship here. I see descriptive pictures about a place but I don’t get a sense of why this place is important for the photographer. Like I said, the pictures are fine, they just don’t reach down into my gut. Maybe I’ve just seen too many pictures from Jerusalem (maybe it’s because I’ve been there so many times…). I don’t know, maybe I’m just more partial to work like Tivadar Domaniczky’s on the city and that region (http://viiphoto.com/vii_network.html). At any rate, all the best.

  • Amazing work! Really like the action shots!

    well done!!

  • Excellent view into day-to-day life in Jerusalem. So often the images that come out of that city are filled with conflict. In Julia’s photos we see a city that is complex, yes, but obviously livable. And what rich and vibrant photos these are! Julia may be a photojournalist but she has an artist’s eye.


  • In response to people who do not feel Julia’s work is “deep enough” or “just touching the surface of things”…

    “many don’t go beyond what one would expect from a touristic photographer”

    I’m not sure why anyone would say this. These photographs are pure.. they have an essence of the medium. Julia has an eye for what will look good in a photograph. It might not be her intention to go “beyond the surface.”

    “11 years of holiday snaps from the troubled land are powerless”

    Powerless? What power do you want these photographs to have? Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place, these photographs may not have an “intention” or “message” as people would so like to believe.

    For me I enjoy these photos immensely for what they -are- … individual moments in time.. no message..no intention behind them… This is one of the best compilations of photographs I have seen on BURN.

    A “Book of the city”

    “the story how we became the -one-. 
Some time ago conflict and politics where -important to me-, now I just
 enjoy good tea with menta leaves, looking at old men and children. Doing what I do the best – my photography.”

    These photos show exactly what Julia has written in her statement…. nothing about “politics” nothing about “conflict” … just the MOMENT of these happenings. Pure photography in my opinion.

    Thank you Julia


  • First of all it seems that the pictures was all taken in Palestine and not in Israel (Lol: to Bob), even the country doesn’t exist officialy. I would tell this highly to help people beeing usefull with that name:Palestine
    This report could have been taken in a American indians camp…

    Second, football, Tsahal control, baker, cards, etc… She seem to be honnest, get lost from the safari photo and just take in pictures what everybody see when we go there…

    Newspaper always goes to the same place and call all plastinian a “terrorist” all kids are “chebabs” and throw stones, even you have , like in Gaza more than 60 % of the population that fit the Chebabs category, wich make around 600000 kids….and never more than 1000 kids who throw stones…it’s the proportion of our occidental press which is showing the reality there. They lie but it’s like that since the begining of photography…two century ago…

    So this work is great and honnest, in that way it will never be published like that but it’s also time to start to shots what people don’t see and more go into the feeling of what going on there…

    Photography is a medium that can allow us to go deeper…

    Keep up the destination, all wall are full of blood there, even rocks have an history…and shot shot everything you feel…not see…

Comments are currently closed.