A House Without a Roof 
by Adam Golfer

Softcover, 168 pp

8.5 x 11.75 inches
Edition of 700
In English, with Arabic and Hebrew translations

Art Direction and Design by Ghazaal Vojdani
Published by Booklyn Press

Shortlisted for:
2017 Kraszna-Kraus Foundation Best Photography Book Award
2016 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation First Book Award

2016 Mack First Book Award

Recipient of the 2016 Snider Prize from the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago)

The first time Adam Golfer showed me A House Without a Roof, it was summer 2015 and it was a dummy. The book was very different in its look, but it was already informed by a complex, manifolded structure which weaves together fictions of Adam's family chronicle in Europe and USA with representations from Israel’s founding and ongoing military occupation. The project derived from a pretty long and dense gestation, beginning in winter 2011-12, when Adam started photographing the landscape around Jerusalem and the Occupied West Bank.

While reflecting the contested historical narratives of Israel and Palestine, the book is in fact a very deep investigation of Adam's biographical connection to this land. With his grandparents being Holocaust survivors, and his father's fascination with the Israeli state based on his brief experiences there in a more idyllic time (early 1970s), Adam sees the circumstances of the creation of Israel, mass Palestinian displacement and the ongoing occupation as a continuation of the histories evolving out of the traumas of WWII. As a reflection of the multiplicity of story- and timelines, the book ended up includinges a wide spectrum of sources - such as archival objects, references to the religious histories of the land, and the second world war, personal documents and found imagery - that are here all connected like elements of a navigation chart.

After more than 24 months from my first encounter with the dummy, and 12 from the book's publication, today I finally have it on my desk. I kind of like these long travels - they give time for thoughts and impressions to sediment and mature. Anyhow, what impressed me right away is the use of the color gold - a pervasive presence throughout the whole book, starting from the cover.

There is more than one reason connected to this element. The first is quite straightforward: golden is the Dome of the Rock in the Old City in Jerusalem, a holy site to Jews, Christians and Muslims together. It's the symbol of the historic attachment that each group has to the same land: a symbol of union and division at the same time, a sort of raw material that reflects different versions of the same story, like a golden plate reflects light accordingly to its inclination. Another reason I see behind this choice is that, despite the homogeneous feeling it conveys on the chromatic level, gold is a heavy color, and it makes no exception in this book, that has no intention of being an easy one. Adam encourages the readers to take their time in elaborating the book, both in its images and its texts, that are a fundamental part of the oeuvre and are presented in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

Giving space to a trilingual version of all texts might look like a quite an unusual decision for a photobook, where the common format sees the image prevailing over the written word. It could even be seen as a statement in open contradiction with the so-called universal language of photography. In fact, this choice underlines the weight carried by language as an element of either union or contrast, especially in a time where how we access, process and disseminate information is key factor for social equity. Adam proves to be aware of the political privilege embedded into language, a fortiori as a passport carrying​ U.S. citizen, a man, and a native English speaker. I feel grateful for this attentive perspective, that grounds the book on a level that is deeper than the "merely" artistic one. In my eyes, it is meaningful that it was released right after Brexit and short before Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States, in a moment of extreme crisis of the values of trust, inclusion and commonality that Westerns have almost given for granted after WWII.

Throughout the book, several narratives are all at play, and convey different registers of meaning, simultaneously. An example of this is the Anne Frank/Facebook/iPhone screen-shot, People You Might Know. The image raises questions about the manner in which individuals become emblematic of events, how social media by design forces us to repeatedly confront our personal histories, and how a simple image can evolve into a dark irony when presented out of context. Two short stories in the book reference these ideas: the first is a conversation about the relative "newness" of social media when considered in history (i.e. "What if the Nazis had Facebook?"). The second is a story told from the point of view of a child, which references the anxieties and confusion associated with trying to unpack Schindler's List at a very young age. 

The iconography of images, accessing archives, the internet and social media, personal memory, recent history and current geopolitics are all addressed in A House Without a Roof, a book that opens many questions and asks for our active engagement. Its structure is open and dense and it succeeds in being elegant and powerful at the same time. The eye is pleased while the heart is moved and the brain is prodded. One last detail I find heartbreaking is the title. It references the refusal of Palestinians in refugee camps to build permanent dwelling structures, which would signify an acceptance of their situation as permanent. In the face of displacement, it is an act of defiance and a silent promise to keep the candle burning in the hopes that one day they will return"home".

Buy the book here