The last of the lensmen

With the mounting of Alfons Himmelreich: Photographer on the Roof, the country's museums have just about exhausted the exhibiting of the works of important pioneers of Israeli photography.

By GIL STERN STERN GOLDFINE
October 9, 2005 12:58

 
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With the mounting of Alfons Himmelreich: Photographer on the Roof, the country's museums have just about exhausted the exhibiting of the works of important pioneers of Israeli photography. Alfons Himmelreich (1904-1993) was born in Munich and came here in 1933 from Germany. Whether by choice or temperament he left recording the tumultuous events of the times, there and here, to others, concentrating, in the main, on urban and rural genre, industrial photography, advertising and the art of dance. The Himmelreich retrospective at the Open Museum of Photography at Tel Hai, covering the years 1933 to the mid 1970s, is divided into Roof and Street. Each of these broad sections is further developed by curator Vivienne Silver-Brody into a series of sub-themes. Himmelreich was not an innovative photographer but one who flourished thanks to his consistency and dedication. By refusing to work for governmental and quasi-official institutions, he not only presented an alternative view of official Zionist dogma, but maintained an independence that allowed him to seek out the ordinary, observing the people and places of Tel Aviv and of kibbutz life. Shops, cafes, children at play and portraits of the celebrated (and the not-so-famous too) are recorded as documents of the times with a clarity and humanity that excels. Especially poignant are pictures of unassuming boys and girls swimming naked in a reservoir; and a mother and her children waiting patiently for something to happen in a ma'abara (immigrant transit camp). The elegant view of The Three Moors Caf , at the corner of Bialik and Allenby, is a reminder of what Tel Aviv was - and could have been. A sentimental picture story entitled The Davidowicz Child - Round and About in Tel Aviv curiously never shows the little boy's face, only his back and ubiquitous white sun hat as he boards a bus, shops with mother and romps in the sea. Dance and industrial photography occupied a major part of Himmelreich's oeuvre. Among the former his photographs are somewhat staged. Searching for the moment of truth with embedded drama, he captured the early greats of Israeli modern dance: Gertrude Kraus, Tehila Roessler, Yehudit and Shoshana Ornstein and Paula Padani in their legendary leaps and bounds. Different from several extremely mannered portraits is a strikingly erotic, sensitively lit full figure portrait of Shoshana Ornstein from the 1930s. Among his marketing and advertising photographs, Weaving Machine, 1942, stands apart. Its excellent combination of brilliant natural light and compositional cropping poetically describes an idle machine awaiting its operator. Nostalgia is touched more directly by Automobile Showroom, Citrus House, the 1940s. Heavy industry is conceptually described in a crisp untitled image of a mighty steel screw set against a suburban skyline. IN AN adjacent gallery, an album containing sepia-toned postcards depicting scenes and personalities of the Holy Land presents a pleasant option to the Himmelreich show. Photographed by Shlomo Narinsky from 1910 to 1921, the postcards were printed in 1921 by the Jamal Brothers with captions in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Fridl Gidal, brother of photographer Tim Gidal, purchased a large stock of the cards and created the album in 1980. Narinsky's lens presents the Holy Land in an oriental, biblical and romantic manner, while portraits cover the various ethnic groups in the country from Beduin in traditional garb to Yemenite and Ashkenazi Jews, female beauties, rabbis and personalities like Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Curator Naama Haikin indicates that Narinsky's photographic style was pictorial, stressing purely aesthetic values unrelated to any sociopolitical context or the unique character of the medium. She goes on to say that much emphasis was placed on his compositions, the fruit of thoughtful design by a photographer-artist who has, like the painter, the capacity to plan and implement a work that is endowed with authenticity and uniqueness. (Open Museum of Photography, Tel Hai Industrial Park). FACT MEETS fiction with exceptional zeal in realistically rendered paintings by Howard Fox (b, Canada, 1955), an artist currently living in Karkur. His invented subjects range from horrific melodramatic descriptions of hell to salubrious views of Tel Aviv balconies at breakfast time. Fox is a superb technician and excellent draughtsman. His conceptual realizations of imaginary cities and their strange inhabitants, including dictators, ice skaters, Gulliver and Christ, are remarkable, yet dry and dispassionate. Each and every illustrated stone, arch, pilaster, decorated pillar and statuary is painted in a manner of no-nonsense theatrical illusionism. One can only try to appreciate these paintings by penetrating the odd vignette and attempting to deduce the logic, if any, of its place in Fox's invented history. Fox has housed his stories in a grand mix of cultures, from the extravagant ruins of Rome and Byzantium to the opulent churches of Christendom and the geometrically ornamented mosques of Islam. When forged together with people they form hallucinatory episodes that are quite mind boggling. Notice the Arab arch decorated meticulously with a European fresco in Skaters (see photograph); an attack helicopter hovering above a city in the throes of a surreal revolution; and a Viking ship docking at the base of an architecturally bizarre Tower of Babel. (Bernard Gallery, 170 Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv). Until September 30. WORKS ON paper somehow provide the viewer with a sense of familiarity with the artist that the broad strokes of paint or the clarity of a C print often do not. With techniques on paper one is confronted by a personal, almost coded, handwriting brought on by a salvo of creative impulses and intimate thoughts. This experience could not be more obvious at Works on Paper, a discerning group of etchings, watercolors, drawings and collages by 16 local and international artists. In place are Jules Pascin's ripe females and amusing farm scenes, a major Henry Shelesnyak mixed-media work containing all the artist's signature icons, Marcel Janco's colorfully melodic War of Independence and Arab coffee house illustrations, and a series of expressive dry point and aquatint self portraits by Ofer Lellouche. But the artists who use the medium to its greatest advantage are Aviva Uri, represented here by oversized abstractions; several superbly composed collages from the 1970s by Michael Druks; and an early (1925), vibrantly colored watercolor of the Jaffa Gate by Yosef Zaritsky, a sheet that looks as if it were brushed only yesterday. Other notables include Avigdor Arikha, Aharon Messeg and Raanan Levy, who is rapidly becoming one of the country's most accomplished draftsmen. (Gordon Gallery, 95 Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv). Until October 15.

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