‘Open’ is a set of 34 prints, made from 4×5 negatives exposed, in camera, in Palestine by Morgan Ashcom in 2009, then re-exposed to fluorescent light by Israeli border guards prior to development, housed in a recycled 4×5 negative box. Ashcom offered these as a sort of “Thank You” gift for donating to Human Supporters, which operates a summer camp for youth and offers dance and art classes, and various other workshops and programs for young people in Palestine.
It was a long road to this set of prints arriving in the mail. Ashcom originally offered the prints-for-donation thing sometime in 2020, if I recall, but the first charity—to which I GoFundMe’d the money—was targeted by unnamed foreign governments—the same ones that unwittingly helped produce the prints and perhaps the host country—and removed. My original donation was returned, Ashcom set up an alternate, and I again jumped on it.
As you might expect from exposed color negative media—the film was Kodak Portra 160NC—the are some beautiful colors, mostly in the yellow and magenta range, with some images clearly visible and others completely obscured. As images, purely as images divorced entirely from the means of production, the prints are in many cases beautiful. That is, I appreciate the materiality and fragility of color negative media, and enjoy the partially unpredictable reactions that arise from accidental—or entirely intentional—exposure. As an object, though, taking into account Ashcom’s story of their production, Open brings (to my mind, anyway) thoughts of the Holy Land more broadly considered, the light and air and all, and the rage against a political system that devalues a portion of its citizens and openly and unapologetically steals land from its neighbors, blockades their ports, embargoes all imports and exports, even stops funding to legitimate charities.
As a Muslim, I have nothing but respect for what Allah calls, in the Quran, the People of the Book, that is Jews and Christians, the other followers of the religion of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. I also have an equal amount of disgust at the actions of the Israeli state against the people of Palestine. The actions of Hamas are, in many cases, shameful, yet my ancestors did the same against their oppressors ~350 years ago. The responses of the much stronger state of Israel, the language and apparent attitudes of its leadership, are simply obscene.
Ashcom describes the production in a little note that came with the prints.
The c-prints in this portfolio are from 4″x5″ negatives I made in Palestine in 2009. At the end of my visit, chance intervened when my box of unprocessed film was opened by Israeli security. The negatives were exposed to fluorescent light—obscuring the images.
The title of the portfolio, Open, refers both to the action of opening the film box and the antithesis of the apartheid imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli occupation. these works do not claim to carry the burden of proving anything. Instead they are fictions coauthored during the collision of my negatives with the Israeli apartheid state and the experience of a tenacious Palestinian organizer.Ashcom, Morgan. Artists note accompanying Open, a portfolio of 34 prints housed in a cardboard box.
Ashcom puts it, of course, better than I did, and I let my comments stand. I’ve made no secret of my support for Palestine, and if that bothers you, I make no apologies. Apartheid is unacceptable.
I realize now that this post probably reads like me showing off some. “Look what I have!” Astaghfirullah (may Allah forgive me). Yes, I’m happy and privileged to have a copy of Open. And, yes, I was more than happy to donate some of my hard-earned money to support youth programs in Palestine. I give money to Palestenian causes with some regularity and without any Thank You gifts; Ashcom’s prints were merely a lovely bonus.
Anyway. Check out Ashcom’s website, and give him a follow on Instagram. There’s a 2017 book from Mack that I missed back then, and an older book, Leviathan that looks right up my alley, but is economically out of bounds at present. At time of writing, Open is on view as part of the “Direct Sow” group show at Visible Records through February 12, 2022, and at Candela, through February 17, as part of the”(de)constructed” show. If you’re in or near Charlottesville or Richmond, VA, go check it out. The exhibition version is quite different and expanded on from the box of prints I enjoy.
Thanks to Ashcom for putting this all together. And may Allah grant ease and peace to the Palestinian people, and to all those oppressed throughout the world.