At first glance Nes’s portrait of Joseph (whose birth is recorded in this week’s Torah reading) feels wrong. The child is too young.
You can see it here
Please click through, it’s hard to explain just in words.
As readers of Torah, our collective memories of Joseph properly begin with his dream stories (stories we don’t come to for a couple of weeks). He seems arrogant, tactless, almost goading his brothers with dreams of his greatness. But in Nes’s photograph the boasts are revealed as nothing more than the bravado of a little boy who has lost his mummy. The glorious ‘coat of many colours’ is revealed as the sort of shirt one can buy in the markets of the Middle East. There is certainly a Middle Eastern quality to the photograph, but after that it’s difficult to pin down. I presume the child is Jewish, but he could be an Arab. The street behind him is indistinct and blurred. It could be a beautiful Galilean Moshav, or some godforsaken refugee camp. There is an ‘everyman’ quality to the suffering of this small child, coupled with a certain bravery. He’s prepared to meet our stare but he doesn’t know what it coming. Who does?
When we read these wonderful stories we have the end, perhaps, to easily in mind – Joseph, hero of Egypt, Viceroy over the Nile. But this photograph, and the others in the series, bring a freshness, a challenge and a raw quality that opens up more questions than it answers.
Other photos in the series can be seen at