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November 27, 2015 / 15 Kislev, 5776
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Bill Aron’s Time Machines: Forever Young, Forever Old

Western Wall Plaza at Night (9 ¾ x 40) digital print by Bill Aron
Courtesy 92nd Street Y

Western Wall Plaza at Night (9 ¾ x 40) digital print by Bill Aron Courtesy 92nd Street Y

The catalogue essay by the photographer considers two philosophical approaches to time. “Presentists” believe that future, present and past are always operative and distinct aspects of time, only the present being actually “real.” The “Eternalists” grant equality to all aspects of time; equally “real” and simultaneous. For them time has no future, present and past, only a unity. This eternalist approach echoes the assertions that Israel and Jerusalem are eternal, a deeply Jewish point of view that Aron wants to express in these photographs.

Ben Yehuda Street (detail) digital print by Bill Aron
Courtesy 92nd Street Y

For many secular Jerusalemites Ben Yehuda Street is the heart of their city. Aron’s multifaceted image of the intersection of Mordechai ben Hillel and Ben Yehuda appears at first as a sparsely traversed urban center with scattered people going about their normal everyday business. But then little shocks of repetition jolt our consciousness. That lady in the cream-colored top and blond wig suddenly seems to be following herself, as does the fellow in a white shirt, suspenders and black pants emerging way down another street. Once I see him it is almost normal to see the guy talking on the cellphone flitting across the photograph and turning the corner down another street. The whole somewhat unsettling experience has broadened my perception of Ben Yehuda Street. Beyond “seeing” this intersection as a unity, physically impossible in “real life,” I now notice that time has been simultaneously expanded and contracted. The slice of time is much longer than an instant because I can see some of the people at various stages of their journey on that sunny day. Contradicting that is the odd fact that the shadows seem to be facing arbitrary directions, also impossible in this wide-angle view. Time, here defined by the sun, has been confused and condensed.

In a totally different way Aron plays with time within the image itself and within the continuum of his own work. Tallit Steps (1999) is a black and white image of a small street or passageway seen from above. It has ramped sections broken by a series of 2 or 3 short steps as it winds down an incline. In the bright Jerusalem sun it is reminiscent of the stripes on a tallis. In 2010 he created Tallit Steps Revisited with a slightly altered perspective in color. Before only two children rested on the steps, now 9 boisterous kids appear to scamper down the steps. Of course we are learning to look closely and realize that only five boys are actually “present;” four of whom play multiple visual roles and playfully warp time so much so that one of the boys actually looks up and fixes our gaze, beaming him into our present.

The photographer makes similar forays seeking to document time’s simultaneous and expansive nature by exploring the Inside Aish HaTorah Yeshiva, where through the learning, time collapses, Men at the Western Wall, where an age old practice is enacted, Women at the Western Wall, that expands the time-bound obligation of prayer, and the Yaffa Gate Entrance to the Old City. In each of these very wide and narrow photographs the juxtaposition of static, timeless architecture or interiors is in tension with the multiplicity of human life existing through time along with its implications that such human activity will continue far into the future, a future implied by the depth of time represented.

Memorial to the Helicopter Crash in the North near Kiryat Shmoneh (12 x 40) digital print by Bill Aron
Courtesy 92nd Street Y

Memorial to the Helicopter Crash in the North near Kiryat Shmoneh distinguishes itself from the scale and tone of the previous works discussed. Here the figures walking around the reflecting pool memorial predominate the image. A memorial by its very nature looks back on a tragic event, so here the sensibility of the image is focused on the process of mourning and reflection, literally expressed in the water’s reflection of the individuals present. We visually walk around with the pair of religious girls starting at the right. One is in a light blue top and the other sports a black and white stripe blouse and we see them twice. Further along a young woman with a bulky red jacket and a tan dog appears four times across the center of the image. Finally a woman in a floppy blue hat and sneakers slowly advances toward us in three iterations. This basic rhythm is reinforced by other individuals who move behind the main actors, especially a fellow in cut-off jeans and white sweatshirt who appears no less than five times further weaving the motion left to right around the pool. This is possibly Aron’s most complex and pensive image in which time is resolutely kept in a meditative past.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

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One Response to “Bill Aron’s Time Machines: Forever Young, Forever Old”

  1. We saw Bill Aron's marvelous panoramic photos of Jerusalem currently at the 92nd Street "Y" and were swept up into the day-to-day life of the eternal city. A MUST SEE. There through Oct. 22nd.

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