Elena Farsakh: Photographer

September 05, 2014

Palestinian-American photographer Elena Farsakh believes that "90 percent of all communication has nothing to do with words." Through her lens, she strives to give insight into the daily conditions and emotions of people in faraway and sometimes misunderstood places. Her portfolio features work from Egypt, Palestine, Tunisia, and Morocco, and her pictures appear in Samih Farsoun's seminal work Culture and Customs of the Palestinians.

Farsakh experienced global diversity at a young age. Born in Connecticut, she first went to the Middle East with her family when she was three years old. She spent several months in Lebanon and on the West Bank. The family eventually moved to Saudi Arabia when she was seven. Raised in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Abu Dhabi, her travels taught her to appreciate cultural contrasts and the impact of the environment on human interactions.

"We moved a lot while I was growing up because of my parents' careers," Farsakh relates. Her Palestinian father is a retired professor of Mathematics, and her American mother is a former US diplomat. "The one place I saw as home was Birzeit, my father's hometown in the West Bank. I felt a constant and increasingly strong connection to my family home there."

Before studying film and video at New York University, Farsakh spent a year at Birzeit University. Her deep connection to Palestine has led Farsakh to capture images of Palestine as she sees and feels it: a place of comfort, of family, and of endless spirit. "I wanted to show what Palestinians are really about, that the issues that affect other people affect Palestinians as well, but that they have the additional burden of living under occupation."

In addition to regular exposure to Israeli human rights violations -- checkpoints and the harassments Palestinians endure from the soldiers enforcing them, arbitrary arrests, and other blatant indignities - and to heart-wrenching sights, such as Palestinians living on the street opposite their own homes, now occupied by Israeli settlers, Farsakh strives to remain attuned as a photographer to the heart-warming moments that oppressed populations can also experience.

In her 2010 exhibit, "Palestinians, meanwhile..." which opened in Washington, DC, she presents moving images of smiling girl scouts, a bride and groom sharing their first dance, and expressive graffiti on Israel's separation wall. In Farsakh's words, the exhibit is about showing "Palestinians...quick to seize moments of ephemeral joy. Milestones, celebrations, life passages, friends and family become even more precious. All these things, even the mundane routines of daily life, sustain Palestinians...meanwhile."

Farsakh will continue her photography for NGOs, documenting the plight of Palestinians facing house demolitions, land separation, and homes appropriated by Israeli settlers. But her primary goal is to show the humanity of the Palestinian people - as well as other Arabs - to a Western World that has lived with its eyes closed for far too long.