25 September 2008

Tel Aviv: 1,800 rare photographs found

In Tel Aviv, Liselotte Grschebina worked as a photographer for more than 20 years. In 1957, she stopped and hid the photographs. In 2000, years after she died, the images were discovered. The Israel Museum is now holding an exhibit on her work. The story was in Haaretz.

Eight years ago, some 1,800 rare photographs taken by Liselotte Grschebina were gathering dust in several crates that for decades had sat in a storage space above the ceiling of her apartment on 18 Bialik Street in Tel Aviv. The negatives had been thrown into the trash and only the pictures remained - most of them which she had printed in her small kitchen, which was not usually used for cooking, as her only son, Benny Grschebina, testifies.

The German-born photographer died in 1994 at the age of 86, unknown to researchers of Land of Israel photography. She had already abandoned her profession in 1957, said her son this week. He doesn't know what made her stop taking pictures, but says that from then on she devoted her time to working in the clinic of her husband Jacob, a well-known gynecologist in the city.

"After my parents died, everything was transferred to me in cartons," says Grschebina. He didn't know what to do with them until a photography student, Itai Bar Yosef, heard about the find by chance and contacted the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. "The people in the museum's photography department chose the pictures they wanted. The family pictures remained with me."

The purchase of the collection was funded by Dov and Rachel Gottsman and donated to the museum in 2000. In 2003, some images were in the "Pioneers of Photography in Israel," and a few years ago, some were in an exhibit in Berlin.

On October 10, "Woman with a Camera," an exhibit solely devoted to Grschebina's work will open on October 10, at Ticho House in Jerusalem, under Israel Museum auspices. Included are 95 photos from 1930s-1940s.

Not much is known about Grschebina, who arrived in Palestine in 1934. Some photos appeared in newspapers of that period and in a 1938 calendar. Her son is quoted:

"Mother was not a tough woman, but she was a Yekke [a German Jew]," says her son. "Yekkes don't open blogs and don't write revealing diaries, and certainly don't pour out their hearts in their letters. The Yekkes lived among themselves and didn't open up even to their children. Therefore, my knowledge of her and her biography, and of the period in which she worked as a photographer, is quite limited."

The story carries an interview with her son, Benny, who says she wouldn't have imagined her work exhibited in a museum and didn't promote or preserve her work. In Germany, she studied photography at the highest standards.

Although the story says not much is known about Grschebina, there is quite a lot of genealogically-relevant information:

Born in May 1908 in Karlsruhe, Germany Liselotte Billigheimer as the daughter of wine merchant Todros-Otto Billigheimer. He was drafted into the Germany Army in WWI and killed, leaving his widow Rosa to raise two daughters, Liselotte and Hilde.

At 17, Liselotte began to study applied graphics and figurative painting in Karlsruhe. When she finished her studies she moved to Stuttgart and studied advertising photography at the academy, which was part of the drawing and design track in the graphics department. In 1929, she began to teach advertising photography in the academy, but was dismissed two years later.

In Karlsruhe, Liselotte met her Russian-Jewish husband, Jacob Grschebina, born in Tblisi. His parents moved to Danzig where he studied medicine. In Karlsruhe he was pathologist and the couple married in 1932.

In March 1934, they arrived in Palestine and settled in Tel Aviv, which was then full of German Jewish refugees. Among them were many with art world connections, including photographers. Only some of them made a living. There were so many photographers that the city of Tel Aviv limited the number of photographer's permits. Archival research, noted in the story, revealed dozens of letters from photographers asking for the revocation of rival photographers' permits.

This story is also interesting from a sociological view, as it explains why young women studied this craft in Germany: a profession and practical art that was relatively easy to learn and to work in. According to a researcher, the very first series of Swiss tourist photos, preceding photographed postcards, was created by a woman. More than 100 of Berlin's 600 photography studios in the early 1930s were run by women. The story goes on to detail her attempt to open a photography school; the permit was denied.

The story talks about her career in Israel, her associations and work, cameras and projectors, her friends and colleagues. It presents how refugees lived, worked and ate.

Read this fascinating complete story at the link above.

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