David Rubinger: Beyond the Lens

New exhibit in Tel Aviv captures 50 years of the veteran Israeli photographer’s most iconic work.

David Rubinger’s iconic photo featuring Menachem Begin with his wife  (photo credit: DAVID RUBINGER)
David Rubinger’s iconic photo featuring Menachem Begin with his wife
(photo credit: DAVID RUBINGER)
‘If, indeed, journalism is the first draft of history, then David Rubinger’s images will communicate the essence of our times to succeeding generations with eloquence, for he has truly documented those fleeting moments and preserved them for all to see.” This quote by Arnold Drapkin, fomer photography editor of Time magazine, sums up the life of Israel’s most famous photographer, Israel Prize laureate David Rubinger, who passed away last year at the age of 92.
In honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary, a new exhibition of Rubinger’s photography has opened at Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum, curated by Guy Raz and titled “David Rubinger/I Captured the Truth, 1947-1997.”
“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,” says Raz.
The Vienna-born Rubinger immigrated to British-mandate Palestine in 1939. Over the decades, he emerged as one of the leading photographers in the region and worked for multiple publications, including The Jerusalem Post, Time and Life. Rubinger’s work defined his nation’s history more eloquently than any words, from the frontlines of Israel’s major wars, to intimate photos of Israeli prime ministers, immigrants who changed the demography of the Jewish state, the drainage of the Hula, and funerals of the fallen soldiers in the Yom Kippur War. His image of Israeli paratroopers at the freshly captured Western Wall became one of the defining images of the 1967 Six Day War.
For Raz, who personally knew Rubinger, this exhibit was a labor of love, as he had to choose 70 photos out of 5,000 kept in the Yediot Aharonot archives. “This is a dialogue between David Rubinger and myself. We know everything about our history and about the archives, but now we tell his story. This is the human family of Rubinger,” says Raz. “Thirty percent of the archives are only pictures of soccer, as Rubinger was the official photographer for Beitar Jerusalem. I was interested to show that he is more than only a soccer photographer.”
For the exhibit, Raz decided to pair well-known historical photos alongside less known ones that bear an aesthetic or political connection. An example is the pairing of photos “The Lifesavers at the Tel Aviv beach” (1952) alongside the “The Parachutists after the Retaking of the Western Wall in Jerusalem” (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,” says Raz.
Some of the other iconic images captured through Rubinger’s lens on display include Arab refugees leaving Jerusalem following the Six Day War; a conversation between Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and prime minister Menachem Begin at Aswan following the peace treaty in 1980; hijacked passengers of the Air France aircraft disembarking at Ben-Gurion Airport after their rescue in Operation Entebbe; journalists and a police officer during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem; IDF soldiers attacking in West Beirut during the First Lebanon War; then-foreign minister Golda Meir standing in her kitchen at home in 1956; Menachem Begin tenderly placing a shoe on the foot of his wife Aliza during a flight to the US.
“In his photographs, Rubinger, who was called ‘The family photographer’ of Israel, displays the album of our lives. This is an exhibition for everybody. There are so many layers to Rubinger’s work,” says Raz. “Everyone who views the exhibit has to go out of here with their own interpretation.”
‘David Rubinger/I Captured the Truth, 1947-1997’ is on display at the Eretz Israel Museum until December 31. For more information visit eretzmuseum.org.il.