destinations photo galleries
by photographer Eitan Simanor

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here are galleries illustrating different aspects of my work abroad

 

the Jewish community in Rome - Italy

Historically, Rome is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities of the entire Diaspora. The first Jews to arrive in Rome seem to have been diplomatic envoys sent by Judah Maccabi, during the Hasmonean kingdom, in the second century BCE, giving rise to an organized Jewish community in continual existence from the Roman period to modern times. 

 

Yet the history of Jewish life in Rome is paved with waves of oppression, segregation and persecution both by emperors and popes, later by the fascists and the Nazis.

Today, Rome has a Jewish population of about 15,000. A small and diverse community fully integrated in the Italian society. The area known as the “Jewish ghetto” has become part of the classic tourist circuit in Rome. Large crowds of visitors come to see the Great Synagogue and to enjoy the various “Jewish attractions” (Jewish museum, Jewish bakery, Jewish cafes and restaurants…). The Jews themselves have migrated to other neighborhoods, although a core of them is still residing in the “Jewish ghetto” area.

 

The community has diversified with the arrival of Jewish migrants from Libya, some 50 years ago.

 

The aim of this photographic project was to draw an informal yet intimate portrait of the community. It would have been rather ambitious to pretend that such rich heritage and intricate human fabric could be fully encapsulated in the framework of this project. Hence, with no attempt to be exhaustive, I have chosen to focus on iconic aspects and individuals who, in my eyes, epitomize the specificities of the community.

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the Jewish community in Rome - Italy

Ethiopian Jews in Gondar - Ethiopia

In the year 2000 Israel got drawn into a harsh controversy around the right for the then called "Falashmura" Ethiopian Jews to migrate to Israel and become Israeli citizens as part of the law of "the right of return" which grants israeli citizenship to any Jew who wishes to settle down in Israel.

The Israeli authorities claimed that all Ethiopian Jews had already emigrated to Israel during the Moses and Solomon operations in '85 and '91. But through a Zionist American NGO a group of about 20.000 people claimed that they were forced to convert to Christianity in the former decades. They also claimed to have stayed faithful to Judaism and that members of their families were already in Israel.

Somehow most of these people had gathered into two main compounds in Addis Ababa and in Gondar (Northern Ethiopia). The american Zionist NGO cared for most of their needs but conditions were hard and basic. The aim was to lobby the Israeli authorities into granting them citizenship.

In April-May 2000 I spent the Passover Jewish festival in Gondar, with these people.

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Ethiopian Jews in Gondar - Ethiopia

 

Iran

A one month trip across Iran in 2015

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Iran

 

Pakistan

A four months trip across Pakistan in 2018

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Pakistan

 

Paris au pas - France

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Paris au pas - France

 

Cambodia

Kompong Luong floating village, Bokeo gemstone mines, crab market at Kep, independance day in Phnom Penh...

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Cambodia

 

Bhutan

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Bhutan

 

village life in Burma (Myanmar)

daily life in the Shan Hills villages - Burma (Myanmar)

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village life in burma (myanmar)

 

East Africa - from Maputo to dar-es-Salam

a trip across Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania

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East Africa - from Maputo to Dar-es-Salam

 
 

West Africa

Mauritania, Senegal, mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana

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West Africa

Japan

Tokyo, Kyoto, kansai, Nagoya, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Takayama, Matsushima bay, Sendai, Nagano...

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Japan

 

China

Beijing, Shangai, Xian, Pingyao, Three Gorges Dam, Chengdu, litiang, Gulin, Dragon Backbone rice terraces, Yunnan...

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China

 

Romania and Bulgaria

romania and Bulgaria

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Romania and Bulgaria

 

India

Delhi, Amritsar, Rajasthan, Mumbai, Agra, Ayodhyaya, Bodhgaya, Varanasi, Kolkata, Darjeeling...

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India

 

Here is a travel piece in which I share my experience and some reflections
during my last trip through India and Bangladesh

 

Delhi to NE India – A travel piece

by Eitan Simanor

 

My travel is all about photography. Human activity in all its shapes and forms fascinates me. The most common daily tasks often involve incredibly elegant and skillful gestures. What’s more, these tasks are usually performed in people's natural surroundings under challenging light conditions. All the ingredients for great and significant photography!

 

My latest trip, through India and Bangladesh is part of a larger project, a desire to go and meet populations whose environment and livelihood are being directly affected by the deep changes the world is experiencing due to climate change and other environmental threats.

 

Delhi

I arrived in Delhi early morning after a long train ride. I was fortunate: delightful friends offered to host me in Saket, a quiet and leafy neighborhood, away from the traffic and buzz of the massive Asian metropolis. Village life in the city, such a treat! But in the end I was irresistibly drawn back to Chawry bazar and the Red Mosque in Old Delhi, where the action takes place...

These are the days leading to Diwali. Shopping frenzy is in full swing, colorful stages with massive loudspeakers are being erected in the streets, obstructing yet further an already solid traffic. Comes dusk and fire crackers set off here and there, with deafening noise, in the middle of the dense crowd. I struggle my way through Chawry bazar’s main drag and reach the busy streets adjacent to the mosque.

The domes and muezzins look surreal in the haze and smog obstructing the late afternoon sun. Such fabulous backdrop! Activity at street level is frantic, shoulders are rubbing. I start snapping street scenes with the mosque as a background. I think to myself: “I was here ten years ago and I focused on the mosque itself for pictures, like all the tourists. Big mistake: the story is here, in front of me, in the street!”

 

Pilgrims trail

“There was never so many Sadhus lining up everywhere, all competing for people’s attention! Do they reproduce between themselves?” Prabhu is asking with a laugh. He is the owner of a tiny guesthouse, in the heart of Varanasi Old City. “I was born here and I lived here my entire life. Something unhealthy is happening in this city lately”. He is referring to a clear surge of nationalism/Hinduism, but also to the fact that the authorities are destroying large chunks of the Old City, right behind the main burning ghats, “for the benefit of Indian tycoons who will build boutique hotels for wealthy foreign tourists” he claims.

In Ayodhya, UP, crowds of local pilgrims are happily performing their religious practices, visiting the different temples and bathing in the Sarayu river as part of one of the major Hindu pilgrimages. Yet, around the disputed area tensions run high and policemen waving long sticks are shouting at me in their language, indifferent to the fact that I genuinely walked there not knowing that “this was it” and unaware that cameras are strictly forbidden...  The Ayodhya dispute is a political, historical and socio-religious debate in India which is being heated by the current surge of nationalism/Hinduism. It is to do with the presence of a temple or of a mosque at the spot traditionally regarded by Hindus as the birthplace of the deity Rama. All the ingredients for a never ending dispute...

Bodhgaya, Bihar, where Asia meets India... Mainly wealthy pilgrims from Asian Buddhist countries come here on pilgrimage. They congregate, early morning, at the Mahabodhi temple, built to mark the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment beneath a sacred Bodhi tree. They all acquire freshly cut lotus flowers on the way, for worship, from one of the Indian children selling them by the bunch. A young Colombian woman asks me with fervor: “would you share pictures showing the sanctity of the place on Facebook as I have no camera?”  I ask her what Buddha would think of all these lotus flowers which are being cut by the thousands everyday, for the sake of worshiping him. We both seem to realize that we are not quite on the same wavelength and we go our separate ways...

 

Kolkata, WB

If there is one place not to be missed in Kolkata, it's the flower market at Mullick ghat. It is so much India, so much Kolkata and so much fun! The flower display in itself is overwhelming as is the way these huge colorful flower consignments are being handled across a grid of tiny and muddy alleys, by an army of porters avoiding each other in the most skillful choreography. As I struggle for pictures this young official tax collector comes to me and declares proudly: “if the Mullick ghat market is not exist there is never wedding, funeral or worship in Kolkata and West Bengal”.

Next to the market are the Ghats on the Hoogly river, where people and flowers bath shoulder to shoulder, under the massive metal structure of the iconic Howrah bridge. Very photogenic!

The other spot that deserves a visit in Kolkata is the Dhapa landfill. Much has been written about it and it has been vastly criticized in India and abroad (see the 2016 article in The Guardian) but seeing is believing! Thousands of plots of land are being farmed for vegetable right by the landfill. It is open secret that Kolkata's market are stocked with produce grown at Dhapa. I spend a whole afternoon by this man-made gigantic monster, watching it closely. I simply cannot take my eyes off it. Eventually, I approach a group of farmers who are harvesting vegetable on a little mount, yards away from the burning mountain. We have no common language. I watch them tie the radish in bunches and I start taking pictures. What else can I do?

 

Into Bangladesh

A local train reaches from Kolkata to the Bengaon/Benapole border. Crossing the border is a relatively straightforward procedure. What the Bangladeshi authorities are mainly concerned about when it comes to foreigners is that they might be journalists. This is comprehensible given the amount of harshly critical articles which have been published in recent years, concerning nearly all aspects of the industry which the West has developed in Bangladesh, for the production at low cost of their consumer goods. I had to display much patience and diplomatic skills before being granted a visa, despite a prominent camera bag hanging from my shoulder.

The transition into Bangladesh from India is fairly smooth. Far more similarities than differences: the trip from the border to Khulna took ages. The bus was way behind schedule and the roads are mostly atrocious... all this could happen in India. Khulna itself is a little town, rather laid-back and easy-going.

 

Into the delta

I wander around one of these improvised farmed fish processing compounds, along the Khulna-Mongla road, leading to the famous Sandarban natural mangrove forests. Tens of barrels full of fresh fish are waiting to be weighted and processed. “Big ones to India, small ones to Dakha” one of the workers explain to me while sorting out a huge pile of shrimps. I can’t help thinking that he has just summarized India-Bangladesh relationships for me...

Most rice paddies who once made up the farming landscape in the area have been replaced by fish ponds. It is not clear what happened to the farmers. Some have migrated to the cities after their plots were grabbed by ruthless fish entrepreneurs. Those who could afford have themselves turned into fish farmers realizing the potential profits. One thing is clear: these sprawling fish ponds constitute a major environment hazard to the delta and the mangroves, not only because they are affecting the water quality but also because they are partly responsible for the water logging phenomenon across Bangladesh which is preventing rivers to flow.

On my way to Barisal I visit the truly superb Khan Jahan Ali mausoleum in Bagerhat. Khan Jahan Ali was a Muslim Saint and a local ruler in the 15th century. He cleared up the dense forests and set up the first human settlements in the delta.

A family of pilgrims ask me for selfie.

“Why you come Bangladesh? nothing here to enjoy! You like Bangladesh?”

“I came to visit. Sure, I like Bangladesh. Don't you like it?”

“This my country, sir, I must like it!”

My circuit across the delta ends at Banaripara on the Arial Khan river. I came here from Barisal to witness the local floating rice market: a delight! Without a doubt the coziest place I have visited in Bangladesh. A series of small fishing/farming villages ornate the bank of the river, a tributary of the mighty Meghan river. The floating rice market is just a group of wooden dinghies carrying huge bamboo baskets filled up with loose rice, mooring at an improvised jetty on a River bend. Most of the population in these villages is Christian. Poverty is endemic. The region was an obvious target for Portuguese missionaries in the 17th century.

 

Dhaka

I reached Dhaka by launch, my preferred means of travel in Bangladesh. These comfortable and reliable passenger + fret boats are powered by private companies. They navigate from nearly all destinations along the many rivers. Those for Dhaka often travel overnight, reaching Dhaka early morning.

The large multi-deck boat is approaching the capital at the break of dawn. Many tens of dark smoke puffing brick factories' chimneys line up both banks of the river. A mild introduction to the harsh realities of air pollution in Dhaka. It is still dark but the traffic on the river intensifies exponentially as we get closer to Sadar Ghat, the main boat terminal. A multitude of small and medium size boats, equipped with noisy and smoky diesel engines... but no headlight: a ghostly ballet.

None of the world's megacities come close to Dhaka's population density. Hong Kong has been described as the “smart growth” ideal, for having the highest urban population density in the high income world, but it barely holds a candle to Dhaka! With 47.000 per square km it is 75% more densely populated than Hong Kong. Mumbai is about one-third less dense, despite its reputation as crowded and congested. Not only does Dhaka hold the highest average urban density but it also has some of the highest neighborhood density: some slums reach 1,000,000 per square km! Dhaka's average income is so low that it does not even place in the top 100 metropolitan area economies.

Words cannot possibly describe the human tragedy which is unfolding daily along the Barigonga river all the way to Azarighat, the previous leather factory industry zone in the heart of Dhaka, and beyond. As I walked along the river, I took shelter behind my viewfinder and frantically snapped pictures, in a pathetic attempt to escape reality.

A soft spoken high school English teacher addresses me with hesitation: “Sir, while you are taking so many pictures, have you noticed these white and green freshly painted towers emerging from inside that dark slum, on the other side of the river? These are brand new mosque and madrassah, offered by a Middle Eastern NGO. You won’t miss the muezzin, Sir, it is so loud! General elections will be held in 3 weeks. Fresh paint only appears during election time in Bangladesh...”

 

Sreemangal and onto NE India

After 4 days in Dhaka, I feel that I must escape for my sanity! I catch an early morning train and make my way to Sreemangal, the delightful tea country of Bangladesh. What a release! Impeccably maintained tea estates framed by modest but tidy and welcoming villages of pluckers. Tender green is the predominant shade, large aging trees filter direct sunlight, an irresistible invitation to loose your steps among the wide paths across the tea plantations. And the air is clean!

From Sreemangal I make my way north, through Sylhet and onward to the Tamabil/Dawki border crossing into Meghalaya NE state of India. From there very windy roads lead to Shillong and then into the plains of Assam. I choose to spend a few days on Majuli island, the “disappearing island” on the Bramaputhra river. Indeed, this UNESCO World Heritage listed island is being eaten away by enhanced floods and erosion due to the ever faster flowing Bramaputhra, as a result of global warming.

I seat by a bonfire with Ratul and his friends on a fresh November evening. Ratul has opened a modest guesthouse in the courtyard of his village house, deep into the island. He likes hosting tourists, both local and foreign. I ask him if he is worried for the future. “After each COP convention (an international convention to contain climate change) I open a new wing in my guesthouse: environment tourism is becoming very fashionable! Majuli Island is on the list of the top musts...”

 

Epilogue

One foggy morning I find myself wadding in rice paddies at dawn, trying to capture the surreal ambiance. I am surrounded by a thick and cottonous mist coming from the river. Suddenly my camera stops taking pictures, just like that! It doesn't take long for me to realize that it is a major failure. Some days later I visit the official service center in Delhi: “Sir, we need to order the part from Singapore, it will take up to 20 days, maybe more because of Xmas”.

I slowly realize that this is the end of my trip... Kohima and the Hornbill festival will have to wait for next year ■

 

© Eitan Simanor

Delhi, December 1st, 2018