Zoltan Kluger

Chief photographer 1933 – 1958

Zoltan Kluger was one of the main photographers in pre-state Israel. His photographs document the life of the “state in the making” and its inhabitants from every possible angle and location. Kluger was a most industrious photographer who traveled a great deal throughout the country and took pictures almost every day in different geographical locations, leaving behind an archive with almost 50,000 negatives. In his documentation he constructed the Zionist icons of pre-state Israel: agricultural settlements, building, Tower and Stockade, , labor, development, the farmer (male and female), the worker (male and female), the guard, the halutz (male and female), the refugee, the student, the child, the Hebrew soldier and sailor. Kluger took photographs for over 25 years, and his subjects left their mark on Israeli national consciousness.
The esthetic consruction in Kluger’s photographs, which transforms the “photographic moment” or the subject into a general symbol, is often interwoven in the construction of a reality that aspired to the heroic, the utopia, the ideal, and at the same time – the human. The visual summation of the “modernist” national condition also led him to a series of aerial photographs which he took between 1937 and 1939, and later between 1942 and 1944, in quantities unknown previously by Jewish organizations.
There are over 200 photographs in the exhibition, among them landscapes, portraits, kibbutz and moshav settlements, urban development, industry, construction, the Tel Aviv and Haifa ports, street photos, sports and dancing, consumerism, gas stations, religious people and assorted ethnic groups, Jewish-British relations, Arab-Jewish relations, the events of the War of Independence, etc. The exhibit also includes rare photographs which he took in Germany before immigrating to Palestine.
Zoltan Kluger’s life story is complex and multifaceted. He was born in Hungary in 1896, served as an aerial photographer in the Austro-Hungarian air force in World War I, immigrated to Berlin in the late 1920s, where he worked as a photographer in prominent papers of the time and learned about the developments in photography of the time. In Berlin, inter alia, he met Nachman Shifrin (1893-1984), a journalist and editor in the European Jewish press, who owned large photography agencies in Berlin that provided photographs for the press. In April 1933, when the Nazis rose to power in Germany, and with the Jews expulsion from advertising and photography, Kluger, after consulting with Shifrin, went to Eretz Israel as a tourist, and decided to settle. In November the same year, Shifrin (who changed his name to Ben-Haim in 1961) also immigrated to Palestine and founded The Orient Press Photo Company, which was unique in that it photographed the Palestine landscape and provided most of the photographs to the chief Zionist bodies. Kluger and Shifrin had both business and personal ties. In 1934, Kluger became a partner and chief photographer in the company, and chief photographer of the Yishuv until the State of Israel was founded. Additional photographers worked in the company, the most notable among them, Yitzhak Marilin and Paul Gross.
In 1958, due to personal and professional reasons, Kluger immigrated to the United State. He opened a small photography shop in New York. He died there in 1977. Despite all the research efforts, parts of his life history are still hazy. A portrait of his was recently discovered in the research leading up to this exhibit. Even if his personal history is not complete, his figure as a photographer, a man with creative and advanced thinking, sensitive and ambitious, whose life was, evidently abounding in impediments.
The exhibit shows chapters of the Eretz Israeli historical narrative together with visual values of the period that emerge from the photographs: flight and aviation, security and defense, agricultural work and industry, urban and rural settlement, public events, the story of 1948, sports and dance, aliyah and absorption.
Two films by the German film producer Fred Dunkel, who accompanied Kluger on some of his stills photography journeys, are screened in the exhibit.  Parts of the first film, that opens the exhibit, show the first pilots’ course conducted by the Aviron Company in the Jordan Valley. Kluger can be seen getting off one of the planes after his aerial photographic sallies in 1939. The second film, The Jewish Defense Corps in Training, or its other name, The People Serve, is shown in its entirety, a duration of some 20 minutes, and was photographed almost entirely in late 1938.


Curators: Dr. Ruth Oren, Guy Raz
Opens: May 25, 2008

Closes: October 25, 2008