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.
See the department curators on the senior staff list.
The Shpilman International Prize for Excellence in Photography
Recognizing photography as a leading contemporary cultural medium, the Shpilman Prize was initiated by the Shpilman family and the Shpilman Art and Culture Foundation together with the Israel Museum with the joint objectives of stimulating, encouraging, and cultivating international research projects in photography and of broadening the range of photographic investigations which integrate theoretical issues with practical ones. The $40,000 prize is awarded by an international jury once every two years, resulting in a publication by the Israel Museum, and if suitable, an exhibition. Nominations for the 2012 prize will be accepted beginning October 1, 2011.
Prospective candidates include artists and scholars in photography with a proven record of past
achievement who intend to undertake a research project of consequence in the field of photography. Candidates for the prize must be nominated by experienced professionals in art and/or photography affiliated with non-commercial artistic, cultural, or academic institutions. The projects submitted are reviewed and judged by an independent jury of internationally recognized experts. Prize regulations are available online at www.imj.org.il/shpilmanprize.
The Shpilman International Prize for Excellence in Photography is supported by an endowment gift of $1 million from the Shpilman Art and Culture Foundation, with the goal of expanding the core activities of the Museum’s Noel and Harriette Levine Department of Photography. The Shpilman gift also matches a challenge grant from the Schusterman Foundation – Israel, which sought to encourage Israeli support by pledging $1 million toward the Museum’s ongoing endowment campaign in memory of its Founder Teddy Kollek, if matched by a donor in Israel.
Shalom Shpilman, a philanthropist and businessman based in Tel Aviv, with a long-standing interest in the promotion of photographic scholarship and discovery, is currently establishing an international photography institute, having already created a scholarship program for excellence in photography in several Israeli academic institutions. Mr. Shpilman has also recently founded the Shpilman Institute for Photography (SIP), dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of photographic knowledge.