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Sinai Desert Landscapes, 1968-1973

The desert is not only the playground of men at battle, nor merely a passageway between different countries; it explodes into mountains and breaks down into invasive mounds of sand. It attempts to preserve its water reservoirs, and is carried away in storms of dust. The desert man confronts it with his long dresses, with jewelry created in the tent. The number of poles supporting the stretches of cloth indicate the amount of property owned by the tent's inhabitants.


Of all the symbols associated with the desert, the photographer chose to touch upon the prophecy of Miriam, who carried neither commandments carved in stone nor temples of lightening and thunder. Instead she provided life-enhancing water, which accompanied the wanderers' tents. Her prophecy did not threaten life or impose itself upon it, but rather supported it until the advent of death.


The Sinai captured by Drora Spitz's camera is a withdrawn desert. It is nothing like the Sinai of Jewish legend and of those searching for the New Zion, who dreamt of coming upon the secret of Jewish history, of setting it back in motion at the point when it had been arrested. All she attempted to do was to delay the setting of the sun, to postpone the vanishing of the light.


Like the temperamental prophet Elijah, who escaped to the desert from the tumult of the massacre and discovered there a terrible silence, which injures the soul and enables it to ascend to unfathomed heights, so Spitz sought nothing in the desert other than that elusive essence captured with her lens. She searched it for the Thing, the Speaker, the Word. The sparks kindled within her illuminated her eyes. As a photographer, she attempted to purify herself of the horrors of the present by conjuring up a renewed, dramatic vision of an agitated cycle of life, concealed beneath layers of clothing and stern rules; behind the other who is not a stranger, but rather represents undeciphered roots.


Drora Spitz arrived in the Sinai Desert in a time between war and peace. Fleeing political turmoil and visions of sand and battles, she attempted to simply be in that place, and to become acquainted with its people; to taste the taste of an eternal present. She arrived there neither as one of the vanquished nor as a victor, but simply as a photographer documenting a way of life at once distant and close.

The Egyptians, the Israelis and the Christians think of the Sinai Desert as a liminal space. For the Jews, this was the region traversed on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land
– a space of wandering, a region of death, a site of miracles.
Yet Spitz approached it as a place inhabited by life and by human beings; perceiving it neither as a vestige of the past nor as an allusion to the future, she saw in it a different way of life.


The readers of parchment scrolls and the interpreters of their symbols see the Sinai Desert as the site of a divine revelation, of the giving of the law, of a hidden spring, of manna falling from the sky to appease a spirit agitated by rebellion and longing. Yet the lens of Drora Spitz's camera reveals landscapes that point to the itineraries of wandering tribes that do not seek to transgress their limits, and who are not searching for a life shaped by books. Their life composes itself into another story. 

The memory of Mount Sinai has been frozen in the ancient monastery, in the story of the tablets and the calf. It is related to the hermit's internal struggle with temptation. Nikos Kazantzakis, the great rebel and spiritual wanderer from Crete, arrived in Sinai in the early 20th century, in the course of his intuitive quest for sanctity. Like him, many other wanderers arrived in Sinai to sing about the end of the road. 
The local inhabitants captured by the camera, meanwhile,
never experienced such a life of wandering. They are intimately familiar with dry ravines and floods, serpentine paths and parched bushes, exposed roots and dry leaves; with days
of exhausting heat and unbearably cold nights.
Their children emerge out of the sand dunes as if from
a mysterious, mobile home.

By: Muki Tsur     From the book "Light | Space | Time"

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