David Rubinger - Eretz Israel Museum

David Rubinger
I Captured the Truth, 1947-1997

The photographer, David Rubinger, the Israel Prize laureate for Communication who died last year was one of a small selected group of photographers whose works are etched on local and international memory. His endeavor began at the end of the enlisted “Zionist photography” period, that dominated the local photography scene until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

The new generation of photographers formulated a freer Israeli Photography, as it was primarily expressed in the Haolam Hazeh weekly. The early decades of the State of Israel were characterized by a collection of photographs spanning two extremes on the human spectrum: on the one hand, a glorified picture of the new state composed of strength, military power, magnificent victories, the liberation of Jerusalem, new construction, the building of kibbutzim and revived Israeli nature; and on the other hand, pictures of the eviction of Arabs in the War of Independence and the occupation after the Six Day War, alongside pictures of new immigrant transit camps, the drainage of Lake Hula, funerals of the fallen soldiers in the Yom Kippur War and more. In those years attempts were made to keep up with what was happening in the field of photography in the Western world, through contests and imported exhibitions – among them the international exhibition The Family of Man at the Tel Aviv Museum (1958). Inspired by the photographers of the period, the photographed reportage and the idea of the “decisive moment” formulated by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1952, local photographers attempted to capture moments that told a human story or a visual episode. This was a photograph faithful to the subjective truth of each and every photographer. The image captured in the eye of the photographer, and turned the transitory into the immortal.

One should not forget that Rubinger took his photos with analogue reflex cameras, in other words, he never saw the image at the moment it was photographed; it is, in fact, the capture of a moment that surfaces as a memory only after it is printed in the laboratory. The image captured in the photographer’s negatives is a mediator of the truth and reality, as we knew them prior to digital photography. All of Rubinger’s 500,000 negatives, kept in the Yedioth Ahronoth archives, are the sum total of fractions of seconds that he did not see when he took these photographs.

Thus, this exhibition is a journey into the memory of Rubinger – one of Israel’s photographers who mediated – between history and us – decisive moments and places. It is also affords us a view of the past, to the moments of hope and despair in the State of Israel. To this end the exhibit shows a concise selection of photos that Rubinger captured over fifty years of creative and documentary work. It is the first attempt to mount a museum presentation of his professional endeavor – combining both an aesthetic point of view and a documentary one. The choice of well-known historical photos and positioning them alongside less known photos (which bear an aesthetic or political connection), seeks to express interpretations with an added value, as well as a re-reading of photojournalistic photography as an artistic enterprise. For example, the pair of photos, The Lifesavers at the Tel Aviv Beach (1952), alongside The Paratroopers at the Western Wall in the Six Day War (1967): this encounter shows Rubinger’s heroic photographic angle, as it formulated over time, the straw hats turning into soldiers’ helmets, bathing suits turning into military uniforms and combat vests, the liberal city along the sea clashing with the city of stone and religion. The five men share a look toward the horizon – a look that holds both the past and the future. From here we embark on a journey into our past, a journey that calls for self-examination and introspection: what is our own personal truth?