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Dead Sea Revival Project’s photography exhibition opens in Arad

CM 21/04/2021

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 The Dead Sea, as we all well know, is named thus because of the high saline content of the landlocked body of water that makes it impossible for any life form to exist in its creamy waters. But how many of us take note of the, albeit seemingly redundant and alliterative fact, that the Dead Sea is dying?

Ari Leon Fruchter and Noam Bedein are certainly doing their damnedest to ensure that as many people as possible, here and around the globe, are cognizant of the dire state of the salty lake. The duo duly established the Dead Sea Revival Project (DSRP), and initiated a photography exhibition that opens at the Arad Cultural Center today (April 22), as part of this country’s participation in global Earth Day events, and which is due to remain accessible to the public for a year. The exhibition is being sponsored by the Arad Regional Council, GuruShots, Epson, Picture Perfect and the Prima Hotels chain.
The display takes in 40 printed works, proffered by photographers – professional and amateur snappers alike – from all over the world. Curators art consultant Keren Bar Gil and New York-based photographer Casey Kelbaugh certainly had their work cut out for them as they, along with high-profile American photographer Spencer Tunick and Israeli wildlife photographer and environmental activist Roie Galitz, sifted through an enormous raft of entries to the Dead Sea Life Competition which, it is hoped, will become an annual event.
All told, 3,524 photographers submitted close to 15,000 pictures with the placings decided, in addition to the illustrious aforementioned professionals, by people all round the world who cast over nine million votes.
The DSRP mission statement explains that it is “a non-profit dedicated to sharing the Dead Sea with the world through environmental art, education, research and documentation.” This, US-born Fruchter points out, is not about physically saving the Dead Sea. That, he admits, is something of a lost cause as natural conditions, rather than industrial intervention by such commercial enterprises as Dead Sea Works at the southern end of the now bifurcated lake, continue to fuel the rapid diminishing of the volume of water at the lowest spot on the planet. 
“When I say the Dead Sea can’t be fixed, it’s really true. Every plan [to save the Dead Sea] is just a pipe dream,” Fruchter notes.
He adds that finger-wagging doesn’t help either. 

“People say it is industry. Industry is part of the problem but the amount of water that evaporates each year is greater than what we consume as a society in Israel. If that is not replenished there’s no equilibrium and more sinkholes emerge. Industry is responsible for 30% of the water loss. Seventy percent is natural evaporation. How are we going to bring that water back when our neighbors don’t have water?”
The latter is a salient factor in the local ecological conundrum. 
“Most of the activity on the Jordanian side is agriculture,” Fruchter continues. “I visited there and you see, in the middle of a field, massive sinkholes. And the hotels that are built there by the Dead Sea, they have huge cracks in the foundations. We have similar problems on Route 90 on the Israeli side.” Indeed, substantial infrastructure and rerouting work has been carried out here over the past few years by Netivei Israel, the company responsible for development and upkeep of intercity highways, to circumnavigate sinkholes and potential trouble spots. 
“It’s a ticking bomb,” Fruchter states.
Rather than giving up the ghost, Fruchter would like us to get closer to the Dead Sea, emotionally and physically, and to keep tabs on the changes taking place in the local ecosystems. 
“It’s a really big problem. I wish I could solve it,” he says, “but I can’t.”
Then again, we can have alternative experiences there as the lay of the land – literally and thematically – transforms. 
“People can still come to visit, people can enjoy it,” he adds. That, he believes, can be facilitated by the new exhibition and by a virtual museum that has been set up at thedeadseamuseum.com. The online show makes for impressive and compelling viewing, and features some of the select entries to the photographic competition, and a shot taken by Tunick at the Dead Sea back in 2011 when he documented 1,200 naked Israelis swimming in the lake. Besides producing some stunning images the Tunick project drew global attention to the plight of the dwindling body of water.
THE DEAD SEA may be on its corporeal way out but Fruchter feels strongly about keeping it uppermost in our national and personal minds, and keeping us bonded with the area through creativity. 
“The Dead Sea is dying. I’m not a doctor. I can’t save it but I can help preserve it through art.”
But, even as the lake constantly changes and shrinks, Fruchter says new intriguing elements are emerging which can help to draw us over there, and which make for fascinating viewing. 
“There is new beauty, new life that is coming about, for example with the freshwater in the sinkholes. And why the hell should you abandon it? You guys [presumably the government] should be reinvesting and creating new things around it to bring people there.”
There is something there for everyone and, as Fruchter points out, many of us have happy memories of time we have spent there in the past. And, while it may be a shock to the system, for example, to revisit a spot we played in as children only to discover that then waterside location is now hundreds of meters away from the dense lapping waters, Fruchter would like us to keep the flame of empathy burning strongly. 
“My parents spent their honeymoon at the Dead Sea in 1969. They even sent in a photo they took back then to the competition,” he chuckles. “People couldn’t come here to take new pictures, because the whole world was in crisis mode because of corona, but they could go into their own photo archives and share their favorite snaps of the place.”
Fruchter has had a soft spot for the area himself, ever since he spent some time at the WUJS (World Union of Jewish Students Institute) in Arad, in 1997, was introduced to a local Israeli girl and ended up getting married to her.
Fruchter admits to harboring an “ulterior motive” for the project. 
“I was really excited to give the exhibition to the city of Arad as a gift, and help them re-brand the city as the gateway to the Dead Sea. People pass through Arad on their way to the Dead Sea but they don’t stop there. Now this is giving people a cultural reason to stop there.”
Fruchter has grand plans for the sea and for Arad. 
“Eventually I would love to build a physical art museum here, which would have huge economic and social benefits for the city. That’s a big project which is a few years off still.”
Meanwhile, as Fruchter and his colleagues work on the long-term venture, we can all enjoy the offerings of the likes of Israeli photographers Alexander Bronfer who nabbed the Judges Choice for Best Photograph; GuruShots Top Photographer-category winner Mario Troiani; and Ronnie Turner, from the United States, who landed the GuruShots Top Photo title. As noted, one of Tunick’s works is in there too, and there is some more flesh on display there with a contribution from Belgian supermodel Marisa Papen, who has attracted huge media attention in recent years with her provocative snaps at some surprising locations around the world.
While the disappearance of the Dead Sea seems to be inevitable, Fruchter wants us to keep connected, at least on an emotional level. 
“People can go to visit the museum online, enter their email address and get on the mailing list and enjoy the museum. That’s the best help you can do. People care about the Dead Sea and they ask what they can actually do to help it. The answer is really nothing. But you can visit the virtual museum and show you care just by the fact that you visited, and giving your email address. Now I know you have an interest in the Dead Sea.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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