Verena Andrea Prenner

Camping

© Adriano Ferreira Borges

“After completing my degree in Sociology I left for the Middle East. While living at first in Tel Aviv, I was granted funding for a project in the Palestinian West Bank. I started looking for accommodation there and received various offers in cities like Ramallah, Bethlehem or Hebron and, by chance, also one in a refugee camp. I accepted that one out of sociological interest and, without much thought, moved into the camp. Alongside my initial project of exploring the impact of the Israeli security wall on the living and working conditions of Palestinian taxi drivers, I had the opportunity to work as a photographer for Muslim weddings and to study life in the camp at the same time. How did the precarious living conditions affect the individuals? How was the community organized, what were its structures? And how did the life there affect me personally, my behaviour and views?

The daily rhythm is shaped by Muslim culture and religion, a life between haram and halal, what is forbidden and what is allowed. The individual leeway between these categories is minimal, especially for women. Moving into the camp as a single woman met with great surprise on the part of the inhabitants. Soon I was seen as an Israeli or Palestinian spy or as a debased woman. Countless visible and invisible eyes followed me whenever I left the house. Shortly after I moved in, in June 2014, the Gaza War started. Public life froze. Only protest actions and military operations continued in the camp. Pain, misery and death were everywhere. During this time a strange bond with the camp community evolved. On the one hand, I still did not understand many cultural and social paradigms, on the other, I felt close to the community on an emotional level. After months in the camp and two further stays in the following years, slowly mutual trust emerged. At some point I was no longer a stranger and I decided to realize a photographic project, not just outside the camp, but also within it. Which raised the big question: What do you show?”

Verena Andrea Prenner is a sociologist and photographer, born 1982 in Neunkirchen, Lower Austria. For her artistic work, she undertakes long-term sociological fieldwork and engages with different marginalised groups, as margins are known to define the middle. From this she develops ideas as well as individual reflections and views on societies, which she depicts in the form of staged photography with the help of lay volunteers and passers-by on location.

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