The Most Important Photograph Ever Taken Mordechai Vanunu (Full version)

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Sir, What's the most important Photograph ever taken?

I have been asked this question by several students over the years and have always responded with a long winded tale about it being impossible to answer and that so many photos could claim to be the most important ever made. I would see the colour and life drain from the individual's face as I tried and failed to convince them that a good twenty minute discussion about the relevance and importance of photography was valuable at that moment.

So after a while I decide to give them the answer they wanted. I opted for the photograph taken in 1986 of Mordechai Vanunu in Israel as he was moved from one prison to another. The image told of the story of his disappearance, capture/hijacking and consequent imprisonment for treason and espionage. All scribbled on his hand and captured in a moment of luck.

Sunday Times 1985

I have used this story again and again to engage students in a discussion about right and wrong, as a starting point for creating art and sometimes simply to fill time as there might only be 5 minutes left of a cover lesson I was taking.

What is great about this story is that it actually happened! It also allows students to take sides, think a bit, reverse their allegiance and finally work out that the world is not quite as straight forward as we would sometimes like it to be.

Photographs taken by Vanunu inside the nuclear research plant
Vanunu's hand "Vanunu M was hijacked in Rome. ITL. 30.9.86, 21:00. Came to Rome by fly BA504."

Watch this short video made in Adobe Spark to get a very quick, shortened version of events:

The context of the story is important due to the global strategic importance of Israel and the long conflict with their Arab neighbours. Having fought two wars in their short post-war existence the nuclear deterrent could not be underestimated.

Lesson starting point
So what's the lesson?

I ask my students to research the story and find out as much about the different presentations of the facts as possible before we create a scenario where the students have to imagine they are being abducted by aliens!

They have to think about the final messages they want to send to the folks they love and can only do this by scribbling those short messages on their hands.

Just like Vanunu did they have to hope someone will be there to take the photo and ensure the messages are received.

Students take the photos and use Photoshop to create a false sense of depth of field with careful selections and blur filters. Here's some we made a while ago...

Students introduction to Adobe Photoshop and Philosophy (Aged 14 years.)

The opinions and reading of this tale are my own and have been shaped by various storytellings over the years. Like all political, moral and human tales this is an extremely complex narrative which I have used to educate, entertain and engage young people with as a starting point for thinking and making.

"Even if you're not doing anything wrong, you are being watched and recorded."
"Edward Joseph Snowden (born June 21, 1983) is an American computer professional, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, and former contractor for the US Government who copied classified information from the United States National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 without prior authorization. The information revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA and Five Eyes with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments. Snowden's revelations were the start of a series of global surveillance disclosures."
Julian Assange...fearing further extradition to the US to answer charges of espionage relating to Wikileaks' publication of secret documents, he was granted political asylum by Ecuador in August 2012. He has since remained in Ecuador's London embassy, unable to leave without expectation of arrest, despite a United Nations panel having found that he has been "arbitrarily detained" and that his detention should be brought to an end....

Could you or your students research the story behind Edward Snowden and use this as a starting point for a discussion, a project, an artwork based on your thoughts and beliefs about personal freedom?

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