tilde de wandel – gaza

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Tilde De Wandel


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Winter 2008-2009. Israel bombs Gaza for 3 weeks. Operation ‘Cast Lead’ kills over 1400 people. I watch the news channels and develop the strong desire to go there and experiencing the life in a war zone. I leave but I don’t get further than the West Bank.

Life under occupation intrigues me. An external power dominating your life. Being a prisoner in your own country.

June 2010. I finally manage to enter Gaza. I am confronted with a harder external structure, Israel.

I notice the ruins of a war and a besieged life. A smashed down economy and a dangerous underground replacement. A constant threat overhead, and a life that tries to find its way while constantly being watched over and controlled.

I discover the buffer zone. The literal boundary between life and death. I meet the inhabitants and their ‘we are already dead’ slogan. It feels like a suicidal struggle.

The buffer zone, the emptiness of life snatched away. A constant threat of death while inside. External forces make decisions over the life of those who want to fight, but also those who just want to live and survive.

I can’t count the dead and injured any more since I arrived. I can’t get used to the brutal circumstances in which this occurs.

There is more, there is the emptiness of life, the stolen dreams. Fantasies seems to be reduced to a strict observance of religion. As if Allah is the only one who cares about them.

Belgium seems far away, but it means I experience this life entirely. The best way to understand is to undergo.

What I get, I can’t put aside. I’m a photographer, I grab what I feel and I share.



I live my life on the go, physically and mentally. I choose to displace myself physically in different atmospheres.

I started my photographic work while watching myself in a changing environment. The only thing I don’t want is to get locked into the structure of day to day life. I reject it, and launch myself at completely different structures. I bump, discover, rediscover and improve my thinking, my understanding of the world.

I was born in Belgium, 1981. I studied nutrition and worked in South Africa before pursuing a degree in photography at the Academie voor Beeldende Kunst- Gents, which I finished in 2009. I have been working in Gaza since June 2010, and plan to continue working in the region.


Related links

Tilde De Wandel

Tilde’s Blog


141 Responses to “tilde de wandel – gaza”

  • Another war torn nation. More suitable for NYT’s Lens Blog, I think.

  • I love it.

  • This is a good documentary. We need to see it over and over again.
    To understand nothing is for granted.

  • A young photographer throws it all on the line – steps away from all that is safe and secure, goes out, risks his life, shoots brilliant images and constructs an essay of import focused on a conflict of critical importance to the entire world and then is dismissed in four cynical words, “Another war torn nation.”

    Yet, there is real meaning in Jim’s words, as so many have expressed here regarding similar matters in the past. We have become so inundated with images of war, suffering, brutality, starvation that we grow immune to them, fatigued by them. We see them and they slide by us, fail to move us beyond the second or two and we move on, caring no more or having no deeper understanding than before we viewed the images.

    When I looked at the opening image, it at first struck me as just another version of a photograph that I have seen 10,000 times over my life in endless depictions of the Middle East conflict. Even so, as I moved through the essay, I found that Tilde De Wandel did make me care, Tilde did broaden my understand of the horror of a war where people of military might can be so callous and indifferent to the lives of those that they oppose that they will leave a young girl whose family they have just largely wiped out trapped in rubble for three days when she could have been rescued.

    He also brought home the complexity when he showed the funeral for the 20 year old man and then later let me know that this man had set about to launch mortars that could wreak similar destruction and grief on those who killed him. He let me know how horrible it is to have young teenagers die just because they were going about life. I could feel the sense of oppression of those on the boat forced to turn back from their fishing grounds.

    Tilde – I say, well done. burn is the right forum to help bring your work before the world. Congratulations! Forge forward. And stay whole.

  • Very dramatic, Frostfrog. But Nachtwey already did “young man goes off to war and makes name for himself.” We already have “Inferno.” Isn’t that enough? Seriously.

  • Ditto everything FROSTFROG said above… except, change all the “he’s” to “she’s”… I’m pretty sure Tilde is a woman.

    Jim P: No, I believe that is not enough, unfortunately. Bearing eloquent witness is an ongoing process.

  • 18 could be quite nice with a bit of work. The rest I find too cluttered, too haphazard. Almost as if the ‘being there’ was enough. There have been so many strong photos and powerful words documenting this conflict that this, for me, fails to have any real impact at all.
    I guess a lot comes down to where you sit on the ‘story or the telling’ fence, which we had such a lively discussion about a while back.


  • it’s unfortunate that narratives of something as serious as war/suffering/brutality/etc. has come so close to becoming trite, but unless the photographer can create something that presents us with a different perspective/concept/approach/whatever it is very easy for their work to get lumped into a stereotype.

    whether or not this essay stands out is up for debate, but for me it falls short.

  • As long as there is war there MUST be war correspondents. If you feel that we have seen enough of it then your becoming detached from the world. Only when war is no longer plaguing this planet can we afford to stop sending correspondents and photographers. THis is real life for a massive amount of people on this planet, until the world accepts and trys to change this its not contrite or over covered.

  • …………once again photography sanitises that great art of warfare

  • Speaking to the larger issue of conflict photography fatigue, I find that I personally have little interest in it these days. Yet conversely, and still sticking to the big picture, I certainly agree that it is important and should be done. The problem is that I am fairly well educated about the woes of the world and their attendant causes so most of these works don’t tell me much, if anything, that I didn’t already know. And worse, they rarely do an effective job of communicating what I do know and would agree should be communicated. Too often, it seems, the photographer’s goal seems more to shock and convince rather than to illustrate and educate. I can empathize because I understand how it feels to see the great wrongs of the world and want to shove them in the face of fat contented middle class who supinely fatten themselves on so much injustice without a second thought, much less an acknowledgment of their (our) role in it. Nevertheless, this kind of photo work is rarely effective, practically never reaching it’s intended audience. I think Jim Powers and others are mostly correct that these things, however well-intentioned, result in little more than a circle jerk for photo enthusiasts. And even here it is more likely to confirm previously held beliefs than to provide an new and insightful way of understanding the world.

    Regarding this essay in particular, I appreciate where the photographer is coming from, caught up in the experience, trying to understand by undergoing, and trying to communicate that nebulous understanding that one’s destiny is controlled by capricious external forces beyond anyone’s control. But on one hand, I’m afraid the photographs don’t communicate that powerlessness of which the photographer writes and on the other hand, those forces aren’t really beyond anyone’s control and the essay, captions included, doesn’t provide much, if any, context for the reality it seeks to expose. Why are these people doing the things they are doing? Why are the things that are being done to them being done to them? What, if anything, does it mean?

    Also, and this is not unusual in these recent conflict zone essays, I get the feeling that the photographer has taken a side, that he or she is working as an advocate for the subjects of the essay. While this may be understandable, and in many cases even laudable, I don’t think it is particularly effective, and can even prove dangerous to the point of getting people killed. I think we need to be especially careful with images that could be used as propaganda, particularly those that could be used by leaders or other hucksters to inflame passions. I’m afraid the last image in this series is an unfortunate example of just such a photo. Image #8, on the other hand, is infinitely more powerful at communicating the essence of the photographer’s story and no one could effectively use it to get anyone killed. I think it’s more that kind of thing you should shoot for.

  • I really appreciate -and to a point admire- young photographers who go out there risking their lives to show the horrors of the world, but I count myself between those who have become 100% inmune to this type of documentalism. Not that I’m happy about it, but it’s true. I have to make an effort to keep my attention through an essay like this, not because I think this is not good photography, but because I find it boring. I’ve seen these images over and over and they just don’t move me anymore.

    As far as this essay goes, I WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE with MW in the last paragraph of the post above.

  • I share some of the sentiments above about having seen this stuff before and feeling (somewhat) inured to it. But I disagree with the eloquent MW about the photog having taken a side and how this is bad, etc. I think most of us would be more interested in this essay, and the photos would be more compelling, if this whole thing were MORE personal. I know what shot-up living rooms look like, as well as funeral processions (and corpses) of Palestinians killed by the IDF. But I would really like to see a highly personal, more intimate, necessarily subjective set of photos about the conflict.

    The current selection seems like a well-executed set of news photos, but as has been pointed out they don’t break new ground or reveal new contours of the conflict. But, really, there is very little to say objectively about this conflict anymore. There is not much of a story in these photos beyond the death and suffering. But there are always personal, intimate, more focused stories to be told of people who are suffering.

  • i’m sure Israel’s political leaders would be very happy for the world to forget the open air prison they are keeping.

    i’m sure Israel’s political leaders will know about this work here on Burn and wish it were not here.

    which is why i’m glad that selfless photographers like Tilde and Nobel Prize winners for Peace like Máiread Maguire, and household names like Banksy, continue to keep this grim reality in our face with the only powers they have to wield.

    it’s a well known fact that the continued futile attempts to break the blockade with supplies exist purely to keep Israel’s open air prison in the news. This photo essay may seem like another futile effort, but it fits nicely into a campaign as similar and hopefully as successful as South Africa’s Apartheid campaign. Like South Africa, boycotting behaviour is not far away based on some investment strategies for university assets to be biased against Israel in the same way that ethical funds are biased against weapons and alcohol (Google “university disinvestment Israel”). Amen.

    what Israel’s still done a great job at keeping out of the news is the vast oil reserves that exist (and they want) just (and only) off the coast of Palestine and therefore belong only to Palestine and not Israel. It will be interesting to see how that reality evolves. (google “Palestine oil reserves”)

    as kids we read about the holocaust and we were ashamed that we were part of the same race of humans, but back then, for loads of people, it seemed reasonable enough to let it happen (maybe, like this, they thought there was nothing they could do). Make no mistake, this issue is not the Holocaust, but relative to the stage of humanity we should have evolved to “post” the holocaust, this situation in Isreal is simply atrocious (google “Israeli soldier mocks Palestinian prisoners in photos”). We’re going to have to explain to our grandchildren how so many of us let this happen. We’re all part of that history that’s going to be part of our grandchildren’s shame if you fall into the attitude that Jim Powers adopts.

    actually for the first time i think Jim Powers (is that the name you’re still going by W.P.?) …Jim Powers(?) has given us a gift. His myopic behaviour has been a blessing in disguise with a lesson for all of us (and probably the reason why students are influencing the change and not the ‘powers’ of the world).

    basically, we must not forget that jaded-creatures like Jim exist and they exist in vast numbers in ‘middle America’; America being the biggest backer of the Israel’s prison (google “Netanyahu Bush Rice”). If we were all lazy enough to adopt Jim Power’s attitude, which is “what we can not change immediately with ‘information’ should just be ignored”, …we’d still have apartheid, and based on Jim’s polarity, probably slaves.

    Thanks Tilde and Burn (and even you Jim for your predicable illustration of an attitude we should all avoid). i think this is another step towards the plan to get rid of this shameful situation.

  • Ricardo Vasconcelos

    Tilde is a “she” and I will not comment on the style of the photographer under penalty of diverge myself from the main subject of the photo essay: the war. (guys let the style and aesthetics as a way of developing work, or an idea for photographic artists).

    Nowadays the democratization of technology and knowledge is a reality. Photography became accessible to a greater number of people, that also increased the number of photojournalists and consequently the number of images of, and about the war.
    Mass communication – or mass media – has destroyed the value of the image, not because it became commonplace to death or suffering, but because for them is nothing more than an image on paper. For the photographer is an intention to help and share with the world the reality that he witnesses. To the mass media the only interest in creating public opinion and explore the lode.

    Look at the example of Kevin Carter! (panos skoulidas, thanks for the tip)
    With the publication of the photograph of the Sudanese child, we watched the world question whether he had helped the child and what was her fate after the photography. They – the mass comunication – did not give emphasis to the million people who saw the photo and wanted to help children from hunger and extreme deprivation! Bu they did gave emphasis on the photographer’s ethic choices without even think that that picture costs too much for the ones behind the lens.
    This loss of sense of suffering, this trivialization of the real, the unrespect for the photographer is the poison in mass media.

    Tilde, I liked how you started the essay – strong image the #1 – and the fact that you have not focused only on individuals but also in surrounding areas.
    Nevertheless, it is worth noting that she might be living in a country with excellent conditions and she choosed to go for a war scenario. I really admire your courage.

    Ricardo Vasconcelos, PT

  • Joe, ever tried to google these three words in one sentence: Palestine and recognise and Israel..

  • Tilde – I apologize for using “he” and “his” in reference to you. Actually, the thought that you could be female did come to me. Since I didn’t know, I intended to go back and make it all gender neutral, but, somehow, I didn’t.

  • Joe wants us to Google “Palestine oil reserves.”

    Eva wants us to Google “Palestine recognise Israel.”

    I suspect Netanyahu and Abbas are quite pleased by this.

  • “We have become so inundated with images of war, suffering, brutality, starvation that we grow immune to them, fatigued by them. We see them and they slide by us, fail to move us beyond the second or two and we move on, caring no more or having no deeper understanding than before we viewed the images.”

    I would argue that there may be photographers who feel this way, but I would say that the majority of people are not exposed to these images on a regular basis if at all. Go out and take a poll of people. Ask if they know about a current conflict or human rights tragedy and find out what they really know about it. Show them the photos and see how many people react by saying “I have see this before.” I am talking about the average person on the street not your photographer friends.

    I would have to venture that conflict photographers are not creating these images for other photographers. They are not even creating them for people that know about the conflict. They are doing it to enlighten and educate the ones that do not know, or are not aware of the horrifying details.

  • Pete I agree on this one..
    In Europe yes people are exposed and view all that on the news in a daily basis..
    But here? In the US.. Not even 1%…
    although we have Internet , people are lazy .. They prefer TV.. They still believe in TV..
    Many commercials and advertisement here usually ends saying:
    (as shown/advertised in the TV)… Like that would be the ultimate validation…

  • To me, evaluating something’s influence among everyday society versus that among a collective of photographers/etc. (as Burn is) are two very different things.

    There are many works that, if spread to the masses, would be seen as new and enlightening but never make it to the top of their field. As a blunt example: if some physicist derived Newton’s Laws, he could show them to the public and most people would be learning something eye-opening, but that physicist would never get any credit in his field.

  • biggtender

    I am not sure I understand what you are talking about, but if you are saying that photographers would not get the credit or recognition due, I hardly think that is an issue. And I also bet that the photographers that are passionate about what they are doing, don’t really do it for the recognition. If someone is covering war or human suffering for recognition, then they are doing it for the wrong reasons. To the socially concerned photojournalist, recognition and awards are only useful for getting people to listen when you are trying to get funding to continue work. As for the rest, the photos should speak for themselves.

  • Ricardo Vasconcelos

    I made a mistake in the last paragraph!
    I wanted to say it’s a great effort that she’s living in a country with excellent conditions and she choosed to go for a war scenario. I really admire her courage.
    I’m sorry, my English sucks!

    Ricardo Vasconcelos, PT

  • Forstfrog sees the complexity, and Joe tells us it is very simple (it’s all Jim Powers fault, and has always been, since we all know Jim was a slave owner some 200 years ago)…

    Ok, have not finished reading all the posts, maybe more pearls ahead…

    PS: Jim, slaves before, now accomplice to gazacide…. You should be ashamed! :-))))

    The essay doesn’t crack new ways to look at conflicted zones, and of course tells us nothing about a situation that even people living there, both sides, admit that “if you think you understand what’s going on, someone did not explain it well!”, but This is no reason to disqualify it, valiant effort definitely.

  • Any of us are just a plane ticket away from conflict and tragedy. Photographing people confronting life-changing events will always open themselves to strangers, hoping they can change their circumstance. It is not too difficult to find willing subjects.

    Tilde you have passion and a desire to tell the story you have chosen to experience. Your images are trying hard to tell a story and I am so thankful that DAH has let us view what you believe is important about Gaza.

    It is hard to know how we should see your work. Your images show people who are treated unfair and their response, but why? The Middle East is guns, dead bodies carried through the streets, hidden faces, anguish and anger. You are not afraid to confront this but can your vision express an alternative? You are a witness to events. If that is enough then your task is accomplished.

    You have made a commitment to one of the most twisted and intertwined conflicts on the planet. Can you visually make sense out of it and add another voice for resolving such a complex issue? I hope so.

    “My eyes are oversensitive from seeing too much…” –Barney Cowherd

  • for me the photographs are a mix of wandering diary extracts and a little of the familiar hospital entrance / funeral / training camp shots which permeate the news, (in europe at least).
    for example – reading the text here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11516009 and clicking the photo link (graphic warning) could act as a metaphor for the struggle.. boys throw stones.. man runs over two boys in car.. and the discussion ends up being about the ¨use¨ of children rather than occupation or attempted murder – as the driver walks free.

    anything new? not really.. in fact there are far more shocking photos sprouting up daily in the spot news which tell of the palastinian /israel situation.

    the most interesting shots for me are the diary extract or caught frames which seem to have little to do with conflict, bar the overstretched context in the captions..
    the boat..
    the flag..
    people hanging out..

    like the bicycle shot, where the war is in the background taking the form of a shattered building, i wonder if more time spent wandering in gaza and less time invested in attempting the classic PJ shots might bring a fresher perspective?

    tilde – you clearly have an eye for good photography and from your text, (and the looks of your website), it seems as if your trip is a combination of personal growth and a movement towards a new photographic direction.

    perhaps – leave the tunnels, the balaclavas and ambulance chasing PJ work to the stringers and PJs and follow your own poetic journey, as i think the text reveals through the heavy use of the word ¨I¨ that this journey is about yourself.
    there is fresh subject matter to shoot everywhere in the world.. the conflict which i think is in your essay could be between wanting to help – thus the PJ shots – and wanting to be free to photograph..
    i think that the latter has resulted in the more atmospheric work and given time will produce a much more idiosyncratic and interesting perspective..

  • a political state with boundaries defined by religion is an explosive cocktail..

  • Stuff like this and the one linked Eva are more about taking a stack of photos and placing them after post processing into an essay to suit a personal opinion about an event or an issue that the photographer is concerned about. Soft propaganda……

  • imants
    that’s why i think more time and a more open photographic attitude might provide a more interesting body of work if, as stated, the photographer wants to spend longer there.

    the overload of information concerning fighting the war and the process of winning the peace makes this work seem obvious and rather ‘PJ by numbers’ in places. the overall bias is obvious from the initial motivation and so the photographer travelled to find something quite specific.. and of course found it.

    the two sides of the fence are so well documented and entrenched – i’m not sure simply expressing ones aligence makes for a good essay, nor a reconcilling force.
    thats where the work fails for me, particularly within the context of burn.. although there is photographic skill and a passion evident.

  • troubles and woes of average people and the struggle with war as a backdrop can be more effecting than blunt and stark mortality.. mortality which i think, (from the text), the photographer needed to see for themselves perhaps more than show the rest of us.

    hopefully this work continues and grows beyond a homage to classical PJ work, conceptually and visually.

  • The average person, doesn’t give a rat’s arse about all these photos, essays about wars, destruction etc and why should they……. they are busy getting on with the living part of life.

  • average person in Gaza or any other war zone are into survival not looking at some photo slide show about what they should be or shouldn’t be on about

  • miss. read.

    i´m talking about the idea of photographing average life in gaza, or any other war zone, rather than the extreme..
    you are talking about the average viewer of the photographs.

  • anyway, i agree that most people may not give a ¨rats arse¨ about conflict photography.. especially not those trying to live some semblance of normality within a war zone.
    still – positive change seems to be effected by the efforts of the few so i´m not sure it actually matters.

    for every 1000 people who view this kind of work passively, there may be 1 who does not.

  • for every 1000 people who view this kind of work passively, there may be 1 who does not.

    Problem might be when people are actively being passive seeing (because most people see pictures, it’s a rarer picture that makes people look at it, in numbers) conflict photographers. As for gaza and the middle-east enchilada, which is hardly a forgotten part of the world, or even our lives, the risk is not so much that viewers are insensitized by seeing so many visual reports, but rather that they might be educated enough to discern the pictures have nothing new to tell them. So they actively pass them over.

  • I meant conflict photographs, of course.

  • I am constantly amazed by the amount of negativity here on the subject of conflict photography or photography of human suffering. It really starts to sound like a lot of sour grapes.

    Is it the fact that they (the commenters) are not able to pursue this type of work or is it that the photographers that are doing it are getting all the recognition? Which as I said above, the majority of these photographers are not interested in recognition. Just in enlightening the average person and trying to spark action for change.

    And sometimes it works. The photos by Adams and Ut helped change the direction of the Vietnam war. Many believe that these photos and a handful of others changed history.

  • True.. But lately we have also that “zoriah phenomenon” that makes everyone suspicious and frightens them more than the war itself… $8K workshop in Haiti to “train” idiots how to shoot poverty? Nah.. That’s leeching and stealing from the suffering victims the only thing left to them: their dignity… not history changing for the better..

  • That does not diminishes Nachtwey but there’s more zoriah’s out there than Nachtwey’s..
    Too many zoriah’s to be ignored.. Embedded or not:(

  • And I applaud your over optimistic attitude towards the holy power of the press but..but..but..
    Truth to be told… Too many selfish motherfuckers out there all they care about is to make a name for their pathetic carcasses :(

  • And I’m not negative at all.. There definitely good people out there..
    Think of Tim , creator of RESTREPO

  • Pete, I think you are being far to kind to those who may mildly disagree with you. It’s not just sour grapes. They are trolls with giant chips on their shoulders wallowing in their own filth under a bridge living on a diet consisting solely of sour grapes and the bitter fruit of their pathological envy. No need to sugar coat it.

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