Rudi Weisenstein, Ian Sternthal.
For the past seventy years, Miriam Weisenstein has dutifully gone each morning to open her photo studio on Allenby Street. Miriam and Rudi Weisenstein immigrated to Tel-Aviv from Czechoslovakia in the 1930′s.
Zalmania is a multimedia exhibit and art book that shows studio portraits shot by Rudi Weisenstein between the early 1940′s and his death in the late 1980′s. While Weisenstein has long been known for his folkloric photographs of new immigrants and lush vistas, this book focuses on his portraiture.
The photographs feature a variety of recurring poses: sometimes the subjects look spiritual, melancholic, happy, or belligerent. These archetypes not-withstanding, the portraits are marked by an honesty and sincerity that belies the obvious manipulation of the ‘photographer as director.’ The images reveal a rich anthropological study of Tel Aviv — its fashion, customs, and culture. The book pairs interviews and curatorial essays alongside a diverse mix of portraits. The subjects range from political heroes and folksingers, to painters and ordinary Israelis, each one connected by the small wooden bench on which they all sat to have their picture taken.
Today people come to the Zalmania searching for the past: some come looking for images of deceased family members, others in search of their wedding photos. Miriam still cross-examines each visitor, sitting them down and telling them stories about her life. She is an irreplaceable link to an age that may otherwise fade from memory. I noticed once, as she spoke, how her eyes were no longer fixed on any point in the room. I heard her words, but I couldn’t see what she could.