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The Photohouse
Rudi Weissenstein, Photohouse collection

The Photohouse

It appears that in the 45 years that he was active as a photographer in the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael), Weissenstein visited every corner of the developing country and witnessed its evolution during moments both big and small. The work logs of his photography collection give proof to his great diligence and the constancy of his work that spanned from the 30s until the 70s. His negatives reveal his sharp, sensitive photographer's eye, his identification with his peers-the founders of the State- from all communities and sectors, as wells as his respect for the country's Arab population. The archive files, for their part, are evidence of the photographer's world view which was focused on various development efforts and projects and also reveal his intense preoccupation with the everyday lives of the people of the Yishuv.

About the Collection

The Eretz Yisrael collection began to coalesce in the beginning of 1936, immediately after Weissenstein's arrival in the county. The Fifth Aliyah was, at that point, reaching the end of its first stage, and Rudi Weissenstein hastily documented the accelerated urban development of Tel Aviv and the Yishuv – from small business initiatives to the establishment of large cultural and scientific undertakings. With the breakout of the Arab rebellion during the spring of that year, the development of a national infrastructure began. Weissenstein documented the establishment of the Tel Aviv port and the Reading power station. In addition, he faithfully documented the new agricultural movement during the time that he worked for Keren Hayesod and the Jewish National Fund and other similar, large institutions.

The collection's richness is derived from its wide range of subjects. Weissenstein didn't refrain from producing professional photography, such as architectural, fashion and music photography. He also photographed for the Mandate powers, the British Army and courts. In addition to his documentation of Tel Aviv, his curious and loving eye was also turned on the land as a whole as he traveled its lengths, capturing the landscapes and the diverse character of its residents. Weissenstein was witness to the birth of the nation and photographed the celebrations after the U.N. decision on the 29th of November, 1947 and as well as the declaration of independence. Afterwards, while the War of Independence raged, he continued to document the evolution of the country through his lens: the Israeli army, the establishment of the large development projects, the settling of the land and the paving of roads. He even documented the never ending troubles: the transit camps and the difficulties of life during the period of austerity. He continued to work until the 70s. In addition to all this, the Pri-Or Photohouse became a place of pilgrimage for important figures in the Yishuv and young state who wanted flattering studio portraits. In this way the archive was enriched with many unique portraits.

The collection is unique in its rich and organized archive. The archive serves as an orienting device- in time and in space- through it the viewer can identify events, people and places and know exactly when the photographs were taken.

Rudy Weissenstein used to say about himself that his photographs documented what his eyes saw. And indeed, through his camera's complimentary eye his love of people and culture, in and of themselves, is revealed. In particular his attraction to the country's landscapes and his identification with Zionism as an enlightened, just and advanced national project, providing social services to the Arab population and seeking a shared life with them, is evident. The uniqueness of the collection is in the fact that it documents big events and small change, important people alongside typical images of workers, laborers, settlers, urban average bourgeoisie and members of various communities. In this way, he remained faithful to his goal of presenting the beautiful face of Israel's melting pot.

Pri-or Photohouse Website

Rudi (Rudolph) Weissenstein

Rudi Weissenstein, 1940

Rudi Weissenstein, 1940

Rudi (Rudolph) Weissenstein was born in Czechoslovakia in 1910. He father had a photography lab that he used during his free time and when Rudi was 8 his father infected him with the photography bug by giving him his first camera. Rudi's first language was German, and his home was steeped in European culture while still being a Zionist household. In 1928, he was accepted to the Graphische Lehr – und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna, where he spent three years studying graphics and photography as well as humanist subjects. In 1931, Rudi began his photography career as a photographer for the newsletter put out by the Czechoslovakian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague, and at the European Center for Photography there. It was there that he learned the importance of archiving and preserving negatives, subjects that were covered during his studies in Vienna as well.

Faced with the anti-Semitism he had come across during his studies in high school, Rudi's interest in Zionism, which he had first encountered as a child, grew. To the dismay of his parents, who had intended him to go into the hotelier business in Switzerland, Rudi Weissenstein immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1935. Immediately after his arrival, Weissenstein began to work as an independent photographer. In Tel Aviv he met Miriam, who became his wife, and who worked alongside him as a partner, not only in building a family, but also in the development of their business.

Rudi Weissenstein took photographs all over the country for national institutions and their various economic projects. In doing so, he became attached to the Zionist publicity apparatus overseas that relied, for the most part, on photographic documentation of the development of the Jewish national homeland. Daily life in Tel Aviv and its accelerated growth during those years were documented by his camera on an almost daily basis.

In 1940 Rudi Weissenstein opened the Pri-Or Photohouse at the top of Allenby Street, not far from Mughrabi Square. In order to open the business he banded together with two partners. Over the years, he separated from his partners and became the sole owner of the Photohouse. In the 40 years that Rudi was active at the Photohouse, he and Miriam diligently built an archive full of his photographs accompanied by written documentation in an organized work log. Over the years, the bulk of the Photohouse's activity- still in its original location on Allenby Street- moved from news photography to cultivating the archive and selling historical photographs. After Rudi's death in 1992, Miriam continued to develop the archive for another twenty years. After her death in 2011, their grandson, Ben Peter, took the reins of the Photohouse, a business whose like has ceased to exist in this day and age. Even today, the Photohouse remains an example of a living monument to a family and national legacy.