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Alfons HimmelreichThe Context
Industrial photographer in Palestine and Israel
Alfons Himmelreich (1904-1993), who arrived in Palestine from Munich in 1933, was one of a number of photographers who arrived with a modernist vision during the 1930s. In this online exhibition we can clearly see how the aesthetic of Modernism is woven into the function that his photographs served. Modernism was not only about the style of a photograph but also about how the photograph could be used in a commercial context. In the archive their are examples of the photographs and the publications they were used in, magazines, technical literature and posters. By seeing the diverse items the viewer can better grasp important influences that photographs had upon society. The "Soldier Portrait" (1941) is morphed into a poster by the designer Franz Kraus, a photograph of a bolt becomes a statement on British censorship. To often commercial images are overlooked in the history or photography or the photograph is shown but the commercial context is not - in this exhibition we show both as it encourages us to reflect not only on the style but also on the motivations for taking the image.
The work of Alfons Himmelreich extends from 1933 to the late 1970s. It is a complete archive including images taken both professionally and for his own pleasure for close to fifty years. Aside from its immense documentary value, Himmelreich’s work fills a gap in our visual history by adding a poetic element, and immerses us in a complex fabric of life. Through his lens we see the evolution of a society in a specific spatial context and over a period of time, and Himmelreich’s lens, his professional eye, was formed during his long career of continual practical and critical engagement with the questions photography raises. In his work we witness the debates and changes in the aesthetics of photography at the time, and this, together with his rich archive, allows us to see a many-sided talent at a time that has often been seen as stifling individual creativity in the cause of nation-building. Himmelreich’s salutary individualism prompts us look for other unique talents of the early years of settlement, whose work did not fit with the then prevalent collective imagining of Israeli society.
Vivienne Silver-Brody / Alan Griffiths