Missing Perspectives: German-Jewish Women Photographers in Palestine/Israel

Friday, January 4, 2019: 11:30 AM
Williford B (Hilton Chicago)
Anna Sophia Messner, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich
About ten years ago, an old brown leather suitcase filled with photographs was found on a garbage heap in Haifa, Israel and brought to a private collection near Jerusalem. When opened, it uncovered the life and work of the previously unknown photographer Aliza Hausdorff, revealing photographs taken in Berlin in the 1920’s and in Israel from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. The mythical notion surrounding this suitcase and its presumable former owner is intensified by the fact that the photographer is neither mentioned in publications on photography in Israel nor in Germany.

This exclusion from the canon of photography studies is exemplary for a generation of German-Jewish women photographers who participated in and shaped the artistic and emancipatory avant-garde movements of the Weimar Republic. Forced to escape Nazi-Germany in the 1930s, they went into exile in Palestine. In Palestine the women photographers transferred their knowledge of aesthetic languages and modern concepts to their new environment and were commissioned by Zionist institutions to promote the Zionist project. Against this background, the visual perceptions and constructions of these women photographers offer an alternative and yet missing perspective on the Weimar-Republic as well as on the exile experience in Palestine/Israel, the Zionist nation-building-process and the “Orient”.

Due to a significant asymmetry in transdisciplinary research regarding female and male protagonists, extended fieldwork in Israel and Germany revealed the mostly unknown and unpublished material of these forgotten women photographers. By applying methods and theories of photography, postcolonial studies, gender, exile, art and agency as well as cultural transfer, this paper seeks to uncover the different layers of the archives materially, aesthetically and historically to formulate a narrative of the yet missing perspectives of German-Jewish women photographers, which will then be inscribed into the canon of photography studies as well as into collective memory.

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