Yoni Hamenachem's home in Givat Shmuel harbors a remarkable archival treasure: negatives of tens of thousands of stills photographs that were taken on the sets of movies - Israeli and foreign - over the course of four decades. Hamenachem, who visited close to 130 movie sets with his camera, apparently possesses the largest photo archive of Israeli cinema and of foreign films that were made here over the years.
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Hamenachem, who turns 70 this year, came to photography by chance. It happened during the Six-Day War, when he served as part of a small crew whose driver was an amateur photographer. Hamenachem saw him fooling around with his camera, was curious about it and asked if he would teach him the secrets of the profession. He obtained a small camera from a relative, bought a photo enlarger for home use, and began taking pictures and developing them himself.
In late 1972 he was looking for a way to make a living and his uncle offered to introduce him to movie producer Yoram Globus. The young photography aficionado had no idea who he was. When Hamenachem and his uncle entered Globus' office, which in those days was on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, Globus whipped out a negative from the film "I Love You Rosa," handed it to Hamenachem and ordered him: "Bring me a thousand copies tomorrow, I need it for the Cannes Film Festival."
"I came out of there and didn't know what to do. With the enlarger I had at home then, I could print maybe 10 photos a day," he recalls. "Without thinking twice I went into a store across the street, bought a new enlarger, roped in my father and another few friends, and we all sat down to print the photos all night."
The next day he proudly set down the pile of photos he had printed on Globus' desk. Globus muttered a token "Thank you." A week later, the busy producer summoned the young photographer to his office. "You'll shoot the stills for the next movie we make," he informed him. Hamenachem nodded, despite not having a clue about how movies were made, who did what on the set, and where the stills photographer fit in.
He soon learned that he would be taking the stills for the film "The House on Chelouche Street." Luckily for him, director Moshe Mizrahi agreed to take him under his wing. Mizrahi spent hours explaining what he would have to do while the movie was being filmed.
Globus and partner Menahem Golan liked what the rookie photographer produced, and in time they called him in to handle the stills photography on more and more film sets. Other producers followed suit. Hamenachem established himself as one of the leading stills photographers in the industry.
Just a partial list of the films he photographed includes "Charlie Ve'hetzi," "Hagiga B'Snuker," "Eizeh Yofi Shel Tzarot!", "Mivtsa Yonatan" ("Operation Thunderbolt" ), the "Lemon Popsicle" series, "51 Bar," "Banot," "Sadot Yerukim," "Elef Neshotav Shel Naftali Siman-Tov," "Hessed Mufla," "Etz Hadomim Tafus" ("Under the Domim Tree" ), "Leylasede" ("Passover Fever" ), "Kesher Ir" ("Urban Feel" ), "Ha-Hesder" ("Time of Favor" ), "Besame Mucho," "Matana Mishamayim" ("Gift from Above" ), "Turn Left at the End of the World," "Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi," "Campfire," "The Syrian Bride" and "Aviva, My Love."
Among the actors Hamenachem photographed in Israel and abroad were Shelley Winters, Ingrid Bergman, Isabella Rossellini, Robert Mitchum, Rock Hudson, Tom Hanks, Peter O'Toole, Sally Field, Richard Dreyfuss, Alan Arkin, Melanie Griffith, Sharon Stone, Kirk Douglas, Colin Firth, Nastassja Kinski, Peter Ustinov, Mariel Hemingway, Sophie Marceau, Hanna Schygulla, Judy Davis, Sylvester Stallone, Lee Marvin, Chuck Norris and many others.
At the height of his career, Hamenachem photographed 10-12 movies a year, but these days he makes do with just one or two. "Today I photograph very little, it no longer excites me as it used to," he says. "For example, I was recently told they're going to shoot a movie here with Brad Pitt, but it doesn't do anything for me anymore."
Once upon a time, the stills photographer was an integral part of the cinematography crew on a movie, because his pictures were vital for promoting the final product. They would be displayed in the windows of the movie houses to draw viewers into the theaters. Today those display windows are gone in most places, and movie theaters make do with hanging posters. For this reason, Hamenachem says, many producers today prefer to save on costs by merely bringing in a stills photographer for three or four days of shooting.
About a year ago Hamenachem began uploading photographs to his Facebook page from his massive archive. "At first I posted just two pictures, and all of a sudden the number of 'friends' I had skyrocketed. They loved it and demanded that I upload more pictures," he says.
Hamenachem began rummaging through his envelopes, digging into the thousands of negatives, and fishing out pictures that he had taken in the past four decades behind the scenes of Israeli films. "It was very difficult, but it became a mania," he says. "I took the negatives of each and every film, and perused them for anything that looked like lamps in the frame. That was my indication for locating these pictures, because if you see lamps in the frame it's a sign that I was aiming the camera backward so it would capture the crew and the set [in between filming], and not just the actors.
"Suddenly all sorts of ties that I'd had with coworkers were renewed - crew members and actors I hadn't heard from in 35 years," Hamenachem says. He proceeded to post more and more photos, and today his Facebook page contains some 900 pictures that immortalize the making of dozens of movies.
In recent months he and his life's work have been the focus of a new documentary film, titled "Mibaad La'einayim - Yoni Hamenachem," directed by Yael Klopmann (best known for the 2006 documentary "Storm of Emotions" ). Klopmann attempts to survey 40 years of Israeli cinema through the photographs Hamenachem took. "We enlisted many of the actors, those who are still with us, and together we wandered around the locations where we shot the films and tried to reconstruct scenes," Hamenachem says. "I believe there wasn't a single actor we invited to the shoot who refused to take part in the film."
"We shot 'King Solomon's Mines'  in South Africa, with Sharon Stone and Richard Chamberlain," Hamenachem recalls. "A prominent Hollywood photographer had shot both of them earlier for the movie poster at his studio in the United States, but they weren't satisfied with his pictures. So the production came to me and asked that I photograph Stone and Chamberlain for a new poster there, in the African jungle.
"After the photo session," he adds, "I gave Stone the 500 slides I had shot so she could approve them. She approved nearly all of them and when she returned them to me, she said the pictures were great and asked if I could take portfolio photos of her one day. Naturally I agreed.
"We found a day when she wasn't working, and during the lunch break I drove to meet her in the middle of the jungle, a distance of 80 kilometers from the hotel. She was wearing Tarzan-style clothes, like she did in the movie. Somebody went and got this little leopard cub to be photographed with her, and I photographed her there on a rock, in the middle of this swamp. Later on I learned that those pictures became one of her first photo portfolios, which went all around Europe and helped promote her career."
Hamenachem recalls that, "When we filmed 'A Woman Called Golda' , I became very friendly with Ingrid Bergman," he says. "I believe I was even the sole Israeli crew member to be invited to a small dinner party that she organized at the time at a Tel Aviv restaurant.
"She was already sick in those days [Bergman died in August 1982], and so a nurse chaperoned her at all times. One day we were shooting in some villa in Ramat Gan, when suddenly the nurse who accompanied her came up to me. 'Listen, Ingrid wants you to come to her trailer with your camera and take a picture that you won't publish until her dying day. Keep one copy for yourself, give one copy to the makeup artist, one to Ingrid, and that's it.'
"I went with her to the trailer and there I saw Ingrid sitting on a chair, with her hand bandaged and slung up, and the makeup artist working on her makeup. I shot the photo and I really did give one copy to her and one to the makeup artist, and I didn't publish it for many years. I published the picture for the first time about a year ago, when I posted it on my Facebook page."
"The film 'Sahara' , starring Brooke Shields, we filmed near Eilat. Her mother, Teri Shields, who served as her agent at the time, accompanied her everywhere and was also there. On one of the days, we shot a noisy party scene at a bar, and when I showed the pictures to Menahem Golan, the producer, he was positively thrilled. We sent the photos to the United States, to the Cannon company, and a few days later I get a phone call at home. Menahem was on the line: 'Yoni, you ass, what did you photograph? What crappy pictures! Everything is dark, everything is black, I don't want you on the set anymore. Starting tomorrow I'm bringing in another photographer.'
"Nevertheless I went down to Eilat the next day, and in the lobby of the hotel I encountered Brooke Shields' mother. 'I got a phone call from Menahem. I heard what he said about the pictures and I want to tell you that I like your work a lot. I informed Menahem that Brooke won't pose for any other stills photographer.' And indeed, I remained on that set to the end and carried on photographing."
Hamenachem recalls that, on the 1977 film "Operation Thunderbolt," "they worked around the clock, 24 hours a day, because they wanted to beat everyone else who was making a movie about Operation Entebbe," referring to two other films that were being made at the same time - "Victory at Entebbe," starring Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster and Elizabeth Taylor, and "Raid on Entebbe," with Charles Bronson.
"In order to be especially quick, we were divided into two teams that photographed in tandem: a senior crew was directed by Menahem Golan and had an American stills photographer; the second crew was directed by Boaz Davidson and I shot the stills. But sometimes it happened that the two crews united for a particular scene. That's what happened when they filmed the Israeli force charging the airport in Entebbe, and so I was there alongside the American photographer.
"That picture in which Assi Dayan jumps onto the benches and fires came about almost by accident, because when you photograph you have no way of knowing when the flash of gunfire will come out of the gun. If you photograph at the moment you see the flare, it means that you've already missed it. So I was photographing there without knowing exactly what would come out, and it was only when I developed the picture that I saw that flare. I was very proud of that picture, and in fact a lot of newspapers were very keen on it and published it even before the movie came out. But the credit was always given to the American photographer, because everyone was sure that he was the one who took it."