Photography Pioneers is a PHOTO IS:RAEL initiative, part of a series of research exhibitions dedicated to hidden chapters in the history of Israeli photography. The research in this project goes back to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of photography in the region, marking a generation of women photographers who were excluded from the artistic and professional photographic discourse and remained largely unknown to the general public.
Roughly two decades after the invention of photography, local photographers – Jews, Christians and Armenians – began to appear in this country. Alongside these, one also finds a significant number of women photographers whose work was professional, original and rebellious. They introduced the local landscape to the international artistic zeitgeist, taught and organized a community of photographers. It’s particularly notable that many women photographers would not take part in promoting Zionist institutions through their work, which many of their male counterparts did.
This is the first study to chronologically document women photographers whose voices remained unheard in mainstream photographic discourse until the 1970s. As most of the institutional work in photography was conducted by men at that time, this topic has remained largely unexplored and unexhibited. The study raises the question why these photographers, whose work was significant and occasionally groundbreaking, never achieved mainstream recognition, and whether their work affected the development of photography and the photographic memory of Israeli history.
Photography Pioneers is made up of two parts. In one, curator Guy Raz presents a germinal attempt to chronologically chart the work of roughly 100 women photographers working in the country between 1850 – 1978. Most of the materials for this project came from the photographers’ families and various archives. Unfortunately, some of these bodies of work were destroyed by the photographers themselves or their families, who did not appreciate the materials’ historical significance.
The project’s second part comes from curator Noa Sadka’s personal viewpoint as a photographer, writer and teacher. Following extensive research, Sadka presents the photographic work of ten women who worked here from the 1930s until the late 1970s.
These days, the question of why the history of Israeli photography is so closely associated with men seems ever more relevant. We believe that the output of this research, and its exhibition at the 7th International Photography Festival, will become an important chapter in the historiography of Israeli photography.
Her Own Portrait
Curator: Guy Raz
A Chronicle of Local Women Photographers 1850 – 1978
Throughout the many years I have spent researching the history of Israeli photography and curating solo exhibitions for early women photographers, there has yet to be a comprehensive exhibition presenting the history of local women’s photography, though The initial research conducted on the topic by Pesi Girsch (1997), Rona Sela (2000, 2008) and Noa Sadka (2019) has raised awareness and helped expand our knowledge. This exhibition is a first attempt to chronologically chart the work of roughly 100 women photographers that are known to have worked in this country between 1850 and 1978. Obviously, the knowledge held by researchers, in family basements or archive shelves is absent from the public discourse. Moreover, a large number of archives has disappeared or was destroyed by the photographers or their families. This present attempt seeks to create a possible avenue for more extensive research into each and every one of these women photographers, with an eye to a future “corrective” exhibition that would feature more of these photographers’ works alongside the male photographers who achieved professional recognition at the time and were exhibited in museums from the 1970s onwards.
Barring a few unique cases, women photographers first appear in the local landscape in the early 1920s. Photography as a female occupation was part of an interdisciplinary movement in the country at the time, alongside poetry, painting and more. There is a fundamental difference between male and female photographers of the time, mostly in regards to their professional opportunities. While early heavy equipment made it difficult for women to work in photography, gender and Zionist political biases led most Zionist organizations, and later newspapers and commercial companies, to turn to male photographers for the documenting of “big” moments. Thus, and although their styles were similar to men’s and in line with the international innovations brought here by waves of immigration, women photographers were given the creative freedom to generate a parallel history of intimate everyday life in Israel.
The exhibition offers as comprehensive a map as possible, in an effort to place 100 women photographers, most of them immigrants, within the Israeli photographic landscape. It lays the groundwork for a database that will in future allow for a more exhaustive analysis of local women photographers, beginning with pre and extra-Zionist photography on either side of the 20th century (Elizabeth Anne Finn, Karima Abboud and others), who focused on landscapes, holy sites and portraits; Through the romantic photography of 1922- 1933 (Sonia Kolodny, Rivka Karp and others); Modernist photography in 1933 – 1948 (Lu Landauer, Liselotte Grschebina and others); Artistic-documentary Israeli photography in 1948- 1968 (Bettina Oppenheimer, Tzipor Carmi and others); and culimating in the breakthrough into the art world in the early 1970s (Aliza Auerbach, Dalia Amotz and more). A cursory glance reveals several divisions in terms of demographics, politics and gender, as well as education, style and innovation.
I chose to briefly relay the stories of these “mothers of local photography” and present early local women photographers’ portraits alongside Noa Sadka’s exhibition The Concerned Photographer – “And I was Photographing and Crying, Crying and Photographing”, which presents the work of ten women photographers and opens a window to their unique inner world. These women’s gaze at us, and our gaze directly back at them, affords – if only for a short, intimate moment – an introduction to the names and faces behind the cameras: Heavy wooden cameras, small box Kodaks and Leicas, rectangular-format Rolleiflexes and Hasselblads, Zorkis, Exaktas, Nikons, Canons, Pentaxes and more, plates and negatives that captures these photographers’ works and particularly their self portraits. The exhibition’s timeline begins with Elizabeth Anne Finn and ends with the group exhibition Five Viewpoints at the House of Artists in Tel Aviv, a sign of the medium’s recognition as an artistic field. The name of the exhibition, Her Own Portrait, derives from the title of a 1969 photograph by Bettina Oppenheimer.
The Concerned Photographer – “And I was Photographing and Crying, Crying and Photographing”
Curator: Noa Sadka
How is it that not a single woman taught me photography? Why did I hear the word “erotic” over and over during my photography lessons? And why is that word absent from my personal lexicon? Why was I embarrassed to exhibit photographs of diapers being changed or myself breastfeeding at the Tel Aviv Museum? Why was I led to believe that I should soften my artistic temperament and join with more clean mainstream exhibitions? Why was my work considered “overly subjective” while I was required to be more “universal”? How come I never saw the two “planes” photography supposedly works in? Why do I hate the discourse of dichotomy so much? Why don’t I believe that “the airplane represents the male” and “the field represents the female”? Why are male photographs never described as “single”, “without family” or “childless”? Why did feminist art and discourse run so scared here, living only a short while before it dissipated? Why was I told that “women’s art” was a ghetto, a fence, a preposterous category? Why was I led to believe that noticing gender is a narrow path to preconceived molds and oppressive, dogmatic essentialist definitions, while “he” can speak for “me” rather well? Why was I told that it’s possible to foster an androgynous creative model, that the soul can be sexless and genderless? Why was it automatically assumed that a woman defined as “other” would also be more sensitive to “otherness” as a whole? Why was the option of humanistic and generous photography so quickly exhausted here? Why did the photographer Lu Landauer throw away her negatives and say that nothing survived?
The exhibition The Concerned Photographer – “And I was Photographing and Crying, Crying and Photographing” represents an introductory look into the photographic work of ten women photographers who lived and worked here from the 1930s to the late 1970s. Three of these photographers – Naomi Zur, Yael Rozen and Ronit Shany – are still active today, but I focused on bringing their early work to light.
The artist-photographers included in this exhibition are Frieda Mayer-Jacobsohn, Aliza Holz, Lu Landauer, Anna Riwkin-Brick, Chava Salomon, Bettina Oppenheimer, Behira Eden, Naomi Zur, Yael Rozen and Ronit Shany.
I do believe art is related to gender, and that gender is related to psychology and consiousness, and that it is good for art to be related, to be tied and linked to a self which sees, absorbs, responds, internalizes, digests and expresses; And how can one face the world as a sterile androgynous model, and why should one face the world as a sterile androgynous model? Sterility is not good for art.
Image: Ronit Shany, London, 1974
Guy Raz, Noa Saska