These are Anna Yam's Photographs
We met at a café. Anna Yam brought along two thin, oblong cardboard boxes, which she opened slowly and carefully. From the first box she gently drew out photographs. All black and white. A broken-down car in an old garage. People with earphones standing, most likely in a museum, listening to a talk. Yam had positioned the camera at the children's height. All that is seen of the adults is their torsos. Another photograph was of crystals. Yet another shows an elderly woman seated on a bed. On her back, which is turned to the camera, are lines projected from an indefinite source, perhaps light that penetrated through the half-shut blinds. "That's my grandmother," she answered my question. From the other box she removed a series of strange portraits, etched on gravestones. A man in a tracksuit. A woman apparently having a passport photograph taken. A young girl whose hands seem to be held in prayer. On second look, they are just supporting her head.
I looked carefully at all the photographs. I thought about them. I could find no common denominator between the two series and all the photographs. There is no subject, I said to myself. No utterance, no message. Yam said she wanders. She's not all that bothered about what appears in the photograph. Her art originates in an action that precedes the decision about the action. She does not see something worthy of photographing and then photographs it. She photographs primarily because she wants to. Often, she says, she photographs without even looking. "My gaze," she says, "is not always in charge of what I photograph. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. I photograph things I happen upon, through a very physical filter. Something magnetizes me to an object or an appearance. I'm not quite sure what that 'something' is, but it's very physical. As if I'm scraping these things from some pit."
"So who actually took these photographs?" I asked. "I'm not sure. I'd say I don't always know who is in charge of the frame of what appears in my photographs. It might be me. It might be the camera. It might be the moment whose context I, of course, choose. In any case, from a certain point onwards things just happen. I'm not really sure, I don't really know."
When she looks at a photograph she has taken, it could very well be that everything in it is true. It may be beautiful. Even very beautiful. But nothing happens. "The phrasing of the photograph is more important than what appears in it, as far as I'm concerned," she asserts, "and moreover – the photographs together, the contexts they create, the gaps between them that unite them into an essence." She often finds herself lingering in front of the photographs, until everything falls into place. And when it seems to have fallen into place, her mood might change, and she might begin a new composition. She wants all photographs to "take off" together.
This taking off depends on Yam, as well as on the viewer. Yam doesn’t try to make him feel anything specific. Certainly not to stir thoughts, feelings or an immediate, primary experience. Her expectations from the viewer are for what she terms "layers of a gaze," rather than a gaze that occurs and immediately ceases. "I want the viewer to be active over time: to move closer and back, to decipher and then realize he might be wrong, to see everything clearly and then ambiguously. I'd be happy if the viewer isn't quite sure whether what he sees is even worth his gaze. I'd be happy if he views my photographs and scrapes them, as I do, from some pit." Anna Yam is also a viewer of her photographs. "Some photographs took me a long time to discover or even believe. I have some sort of 'visual block' about them. It might take me three or four years to relate to a photograph, to make it relevant in my eyes. Sometimes the 'what' and 'how' that was photographed and had been meaningless is suddenly charged with meaning. I can't quite explain why it happens. Sometimes it just does."
Yam's photographs seem to me to deviate from the landscape of the Israeli polis, where the gaze is always laden and charged with aesthetic, socio-economic and, of course, political meanings. She does not want to load her photographs with significance or charge them with meanings. One could, of course, regard Anna Yam as a wanderer-photographer, inspired by Walter Benjamin's flâneur. One could also address the context of her immigration, the fact that she is Anna Viktorovna Yamschikova who was born in Sverdlovsk and immigrated to Israel in 1992, aged twelve. Her immigration experience might explain the lack of locus in her photographs. It might also be that the whole oeuvre is a counter-reaction to her IDF service, when she was a sentinel on the Lebanese border.
I have tried to think of a way to conceptualize Yam's photographs, to weave her work into a story. There are many, varied possibilities. But I think that reducing the art of Anna Yam, who is so keen to preserve her independence, is out of place. Oscar Wilde said that "All art is quite useless." One could say that this claim ridicules art. Yet one could view it as an attempt to protect art against all those who seek to "gain" something from it. Art is "useless," that is, art wants to be left alone. It wants to be; not to be judged one way or another; not to be valued this way or that; not to be wanted or not wanted.
Clearly, art cannot really be left on its own. It will always be "something" for us. It will never really be useless. Anna Yam knows that, too. Her photographs will always be judged for better or worse. They will always be evaluated one way or another. They will always be sought for purchase, or not. Yet, Yam would rather it did not all happen immediately, here and now. She would like us to wait. A bit.