The Israel Museum devoted time and space to photography exhibitions almost immediately after opening in 1965. In the spirit of this ongoing commitment, a decision was made in the 1970s to establish an independent photography department—this was a pioneering act at a time when very few art museums in the world had the vision to do so. New York master photographer Arnold Newman began collecting works for the department, which opened in 1977 and officially became active at the end of 1979.
Since its inception, the Department of Photography has compiled an encyclopedic international collection addressing all areas of photography from its formative years to contemporary creations. It has become an essential source for study and research in Israel. Today the collection comprises over 55,000 items—including rare and unique masterpieces, some of them representing milestones in the history of photography—placing the Israel Museum among the leading international institutions in this field. Over the years, the department has also developed several areas of expertise and special interest such as early photography in the Near East. Photography of the Dada and Surrealist period is another of the fields strongly represented in the collection.
As part of its commitment to collecting and preserving the photographic heritage of the country, the Museum has acquired several bodies of work by preeminent pioneers in the medium, such as Mendel John Diness, the first Jewish photographer to capture images of Jerusalem in the mid-19th century; Yaakov Ben Dov, an early-20th-century photographer; Yaakov (Jack) Rosner; and S. J. Schweig, who was active from the 1930s on. The Museum owns some 12,000 of Schweig’s negatives and 20,000 by Alfred Bernheim, one of the great architecture and portrait photographers in Israel. The latest addition has been the estate of the internationally renowned photojournalist Nahum Tim Gidal.
The department also devotes close attention to the promotion and encouragement of contemporary Israeli photography, mounting periodic one-person and group exhibitions of Israeli creators while conducting a cautious but active acquisition program. Our exhibition program covers a wide range of subjects and all areas in the history of the medium, from the 19th century to the present, both national and international.
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See the department curators on the senior staff list.