The State of Israel does not have a state photographer, but if it did, he would be an 83-year-old native of Vienna.
David Rubinger came to Israel in 1939 as part of the Youth Aliyah movement, received his first camera in 1945, started his photo-journalist career by shooting pictures of Jerusalemites celebrating the UN’s approval of the Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947, and never stopped shooting.
Over the subsequent decades his images provided the historical record of the events that served as mileposts along Israel’s road from newborn nation to world-class incubator of scientific and technological advances — wars and terrorism, archaeology and politics, religion and culture.
His reputation as a skilled photographer and portraitist, as a staff photographer for Israeli newspapers and Time and Life magazines, gained him access to the highest levels of Israeli military and political life. The results are collected in his recent book, “Israel Through My Lens: Sixty Years as a Photojournalist” (Abbeville Press Publishers); the images in the photo essay that follows are excerpted from the book.
Typical are the picture of a young woman practicing throwing a grenade, the intimate view of David Ben-Gurion holding hands with Helen Keller, and the close-up of Anwar Sadat whispering in Menachem Begin’s ear.
Rubinger’s most famous photograph is probably the shot — on the cover of his book — of three weary, awe-inspired soldiers gazing up at the Western Wall following the capture of Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 Six-Day War.
“My signature image,” Rubinger label that photograph.
“To get the most effective shot in such a narrow space,” he writes, “it was necessary for me to lie down on the ground and shoot skywards so that I could capture in my lens both the victorious Israeli paratroopers and as much of the Wall as possible.”
“The photographer must be reliable technically and an artist intellectually,” Israeli President Shimon Peres writes in the foreword to Rubinger’s book. “He must be able to create a picture that reproduces the story and the place in real time, and represents the essence of a period as a whole. The selection of the moment is both an art and also an act of judgment, the depiction of an era that is fast disappearing.
“David Rubinger is such an artist,” Peres writes.
“I went through 10 wars unscathed and survived countless other high-risk situations,” Rubinger has mused. “How can anyone be so fortunate?”