‘Photos for Palestine’: Tribute to slain photographer Majd Arandas

Two online initiatives, namely “Pictures for Palestine” and “I Wish to Photograph Beauty,” are dedicated to supporting Palestine through the sale of artwork.

‘Photos for Palestine’: Tribute to slain photographer Majd Arandas

A shot taken by Palestinian photographer Majd Arandas: His grandmother's wedding dress. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

The Israeli offensive on Gaza, launched the day after Hamas’s Oct.7 surprise attack, rapidly evolved into a brutal onslaught against Gazans, presenting a challenging dilemma for the global creative community.

Artists and other creative people, seeking to align themselves with the humanitarian cause, found themselves confronted with a wave of intimidation, threats and “canceling.”

Some even faced jeopardized job security and employment contracts.

Despite managing to voice their concerns with minimal repercussions, these expressions — predominantly manifested through petitions and Instagram posts — seemed insufficient given the escalating humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Gaza Strip.

Not only did artists condemn the blockade on Gaza and collective punishment of Palestinians — mainly children — but many of them also went as far as to raise funds for Palestine. This is akin to recent efforts witnessed during the onset of the conflict in Ukraine.

There have been two online initiatives for fund-raising through photo sales, involving many international artists.

‘Pictures for Palestine’

“Pictures for Palestine” is one of the two initiatives. It originated from a collective of London-based creatives who had previously succeeded in generating over half a million pounds to aid those impacted by the economic and social repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview with L’Orient-Le Jour, the group expressed their inability to stay silent in the face of the unfolding events in Gaza. They reached out to almost 200 international artists, photographers and visual artists, urging them to contribute the proceeds from their sales to Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

Launched last week, “Pictures for Palestine” has brought together an international group of 150 artists who are selling their photos for £100 each to help those suffering from the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

According to the artists involved, MAP is a charity that existed before the October 2023 war and was already working for those living under occupation in Palestine.

MAP was the first organization on the ground when the Israeli military assault on Gaza began, and remains one of the few still operating, distributing medical supplies, aid and food along coastal enclave, with the humanitarian situation deteriorating.

The initiative's organizers told L’Orient-Le Jour that 150 artists were swift to answer their call. Many of these artists had not initially considered that the current situation in Gaza transcends the boundaries of a conventional war and has turned into one of the most pressing humanitarian crises in [modern] history.

Cindy Sherman, "Untitled (Twinkle-Nose)", 2021.

What adds to the significance of this initiative is not only its crucial and commendable nature, but also the opportunity it presents for acquiring photographs created by prominent figures in the art scene.

The online gallery showcases works by distinguished artists, including Cindy Sherman, who generously contributed one of her “twisted portraits” from 2021.

Additionally, photographer Jamie Hawkesworth, known for his work in both fashion and art photography, has donated a print capturing a bee foraging on a flower at the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. The artwork, characterized by the artist’s signature ochre colors, is a valuable contribution to the cause.

Works from English photographers Esther Theaker, Oliver Hadlee Pearch and Alice Neale, known for their extensive documentation of Beirut, are also featured in the collection. They are joined by the talents of Jet Swan, Carlijn Jacobs, Jack Davison, Walter Pfieffer, Sharna Osborne and Mahmoud Manaa, whose evocative image from the al-Ameen archives captures a Palestinian taking a shower with friends before his wedding in 1980.

This initiative stands out as a remarkable success in rallying an international network of some of the world’s most exceptional creative talents.

A bee forages for a flower in this shot by Jamie Hawkesworth.

‘I Wish to Photograph Beauty’

The second of these fundraisers was launched by Gulf Photo Plus, the leading photography center based in the United Arab Emirates (and serving the wider Swana region).

It cultivates visual practices through year-round workshops, art programs, exhibitions, community events, publications, state-of-the-art printing services and specialized photography resources.

“As genocide unfolds before our eyes in Gaza and the West Bank, courageous Palestinian photographers, visual content creators and citizen journalists work tirelessly to document the relentless attacks on their land, their loved ones and their very existence,” Gulf Photo Plus told L’Orient-Le Jour.

For the group, it was imperative to amplify Palestinian narratives and support those who are documenting the ongoing atrocities.

“The print sale was launched to support these artists and image-makers, who use their cameras in the face of injustice and bring clarity amid the fog of war,” according to one member of Gulf Photo Plus.

Children bathing among the ruins, photographed by Eman Mohammed.

“I Wish to Photograph Beauty” distinguishes itself not as a fundraiser solely benefiting Gazans, but rather as an art sale dedicated to supporting “our colleagues currently working in unimaginable conditions, bearing witness to unspeakable atrocities with their cameras,” according to the group.

The project’s organizers also expressed their intent to alleviate the burden carried by these artists and propel their work to broader audiences, with the blessing of the Palestinian contributors to this collection.

The Gulf Photo Plus online platform showcases compelling images by Palestinian photographers such as Fatima Shbeir, capturing a group of young Palestinian women celebrating Fitr in Gaza. Maen Hammad presents a poignant photo featuring a small watermelon growing on his grandmother’s vine in Helhoul in the occupied West Bank. Samar Abou Elouf documents moments of happiness in Gaza, while Tanya Habjouqa delivers a powerful portrait of the young Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi.

The platform also features works by photographers from the Arab Documentary Photography Program, including Tamara Saade and Myriam Boulos from Lebanon.

Notably, regardless of the image chosen for purchase, all proceeds will directly support the authors of these images currently situated in Gaza and the West Bank. The funds will be channeled through the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, as highlighted by Gulf Photo Plus.

The title of this initiative, “I Wish to Photograph Beauty,” may initially appear intriguing, especially in the face of the ugliness and violence unfolding in Gaza. The organizers provide insight into its significance, citing a poignant voice note from Majd Arandas, whose work is featured in the sale.

In a message recorded just days before he tragically lost his life in an airstrike on the Nuseirat refugee camp on Nov. 1, 2023, Arandas expressed his dream: “I dream of the day when life and beauty will return to Gaza, and peace will spread throughout the Palestinian land. I want to photograph beautiful things.”

In 2022, Arandas was forced to sell his camera to make ends meet, but continued to work with his phone and hoped to buy a new camera soon.

By supporting Palestinian artists, the organizers hope to foster the creation of image-makers like Arandas and provide them with what they need to one day document the beauty that surrounds them.

The project remains a tribute to Majd Arandas.

This article was originally published by L'Orient-Le Jour. Translated by Sahar Ghoussoub.

The Israeli offensive on Gaza, launched the day after Hamas’s Oct.7 surprise attack, rapidly evolved into a brutal onslaught against Gazans, presenting a challenging dilemma for the global creative community.Artists and other creative people, seeking to align themselves with the humanitarian cause, found themselves confronted with a wave of intimidation, threats and “canceling.”Some even...