Galia Gur Zeev
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installations | texts | reviews Beno Rothenberg  2006
"Walking On History"
"I began to show an interest in archeology because (upon my arrival in Eretz Israel) I walked to the university every day through the Old City and understood that I was walking on history."

Thirty-two thousand bags accumulated and inside them 32,000 negatives images of fragile moments, photographic proof of events having occurred that played an important part in the history of the state in the initial years of its existence, years that are engraved in the Israeli memory, the personal and the collective. Examining and delving into the collection of photographs reveals the person who was present at these events and recorded them with his camera Beno Rothenberg who worked as photographer during the years 1947-1957.

A notebook of well-organized recordings of dates, events and locations integrates the period of his work as a press photographer. Brown carton files preserved in the Meitar collection, divided according to subjects, places and archeological sites, hold white sheets of paper on which contacts are glued and numbered by hand; next to them, in Rothenberg's handwriting, are details of the dates, events, names, illustrations of locations and occasionally even the photographer's place in relation to the subject in the particular photograph. In addition, 4,700 negatives of Beno Rothenberg are kept in the Israel State Archives. Presently, computer scans invite additional scrutiny of the photographic record of the nascent state.

I am exposed to events during work on this exhibition, but not in a literal sense. Groups of photographs, most of them unfamiliar, establish an event, tell a story. The large number of photographs set in motion a strategy for sorting, categorizing and compartmentalizing the material. I'm looking for a way, a formula that will allow others to experience the photographs of Beno Rothenberg. As a photographer, my first choices are instinctive according to the visual criteria with which I am familiar. Consideration of the historical significance or the chronological order arises later. Little by little, the way becomes clear: the approach to exhibiting the photographs in the exhibition and catalogue should be parallel to the work of Beno Rothenberg, namely grouping the photographs according to subject, event or location.

Beno Rothenberg was not looking for a singular frame while photographing an image - for "the decisive moment" - or for the unique simulation or adjustment that would allow him to summarize or symbolize an entire event. It appears that he believed that it was not in the power of an image to do so. He photographed a succession of images from every event intending to unroll a whole story in pictures: "I understood that one photograph would not give me the right picture. I imagine that while working, I was building a storyand of course in keeping with what I sawhere or there I changed the angle in order to make it more interesting, or to emphasize a certain point." In certain photograph reportages, the feeling arises that the photographer is part of the event; this is due to the eventuation, the intensity. In others, we can sense the distance the photographer keeps from what is going on around him and his view from above, given his tall stature. "As a photographer, I am situated two meters away from every important event," he said.

"I discovered that optical vision is not the same as one's mental awareness regarding historical events. When you hear about battles in the Negev, for instance, you don't think about arms and tanks, about thousands of soldiers and mass movement. Sometimes an optical sighting will extract the essence of the whole event just from the look on the face of a single, lone soldier. A good photograph is not an exact copy of reality but something that symbolizes it "

Rothenberg's myriad photographs of every event allow me to create "my own" photograph reportages for the exhibition and catalogue. I did not choose photographs depicting the historical, founding moments of the state (such as the Declaration of Israel's Independence), but rather those that were photographed with a view from the sidelines, the periphery of events. The categories of photographs are divided into five main topics, with each category telling a story: the War of Independence; the absorption of the large immigration in the 1950's; Tel Aviv, where Rothenberg lived and worked during that time; Jerusalem; the landscapes in which the stories took place. The subjects photographed raise incisive questions regarding the evacuation of Arab villages, the absorption of immigrants and their settlement. In contrast with photojournalism, this exhibition emphasizes the interpretation evoked by a photograph rather than by the historical text.

Among his many landscape photographs, I chose to exhibit those seeking to show proof and signs of previous life, the footprints of man in the landscape, the "landscape's unrest" - in the words of the photographer. The photographs chosen are not primordial, romantic or those that confront man with mighty and eternal nature. They are photographs that testify to the photographer's intention, as he phrased it: "I wanted to show the country's landscapes as they were formed by the lengthy history of our nation, yet I had no intention of blurring the footprints left by other nations."

Galia Gur Zeev
Exhibition Curator

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