Clean Cut

In his photographs, now on show in Tel Aviv, Tzachi Ostrovsky tugs at the heartstrings with a combination of innocence and nostalgia.

If the crowd of people that came to the opening of photographer Tzachi Ostrovskys show had anything in common, it was their audible reactions to the works on display. Each and every photo elicited either a loud, reverberating wow or a deep sigh of nostalgia and longing. Here and there, a tear was wiped away, or a mouth drooped sadly over something gone for good: for the strength exuded by the black-and-white prints, for carefree youth, for the belief in eternal beauty, for lost innocence.

Tzachi Ostrovsky

Yemei Kasit (Kasit Days) offers a rare glimpse, from a distance of 45 years, into a collective photo album pulled from the bottom of an old closet.

The opening of the show took place last week at The Station, located at the site of the former Jaffa train station, amid Templar buildings on the edges of Tel Avivs Neve Tzedek neighborhood. The compound was recently refurbished as an arts and entertainment center. And just as the old train car at the renovated station will never travel anywhere again, and certainly never reach Jerusalem its destination in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the same is true of these pictures: They were halted with a screech of the brakes and became a part of history.

Kasit Days is about the bohemian Tel Aviv life that revolved around the cafes on Dizengoff Street, including Ravel, California, Pinati and others, from 1965-1983. When Tel Aviv was the center of Israel and Dizengoff was the center of Tel Aviv and Cafe Kasit was the center of Dizengoff, says Ostrovsky, who tells his own personal story via that of the people who dominated that time and place.

Everyone was there, it seems. Here are photos of 27-year-old actress Gila Almagor in a seductive pose; singer-songwriters Arik Einstein and Shalom Hanoch at the Mann Auditorium, at their last joint concert in 1979; producer Zvi Shisel; actor-director-comedian Uri Zohar who later became very religious; singer-guitarist Ephraim Shamir at the Nueiba Festival; Golda Meir and David Ben-Gurion on the set of the movie Ben-Gurion Remembers, directed by Frenchman Simon Hesera; journalist and cultural figure Dahn Ben-Amotz photographed at the Hamam Club in Jaffa presenting his latest discovery, a promising 13-year-old wunderkind by the name of Yizhar Cohen (who would later win the Eurovision song contest); a muscular and angry-looking singer-songwriter Yehuda Poliker; singer and actor Yehoram Gaon with a head full of black curls; actress Hana Laszlo looking pensive; actor and chanson singer Yossi Banai; actress Hanna Meron with her young daughter Dafna; the late playwright and director Hanoch Levin and his brother David directing Ketchup; the late lyricist Ehud Manor and his wife, singer Ofra Fuchs, whos wearing a very short miniskirt; writer, gastronome and painter Amos Kenan wearing a furious expression; Rafael Halperin flexing his muscles at a Mr. World contest; singer Margalit Tzanaani in a beautiful and endearing photograph; filmmaker Michal Bat-Adam as a flower child; the lovely singer Edna Lev; Teddy Shauli (Rafis brother) and glamour girl Mandy Rice-Davies on a Tel Aviv beach. All young and strong and tan and eternally beautiful.

The visitors kept stepping up to and then away from the pictures hanging on the walls, reading the captions in disbelief. Whoa, what a hottie! And whos this hunk? Wait, is that Miri Aloni? Even Aloni herself doesnt believe it when she looks at a portrait of herself as a slender blonde soldier in the Nahal entertainment troupe. Yizhar Cohen embraced Hana Laszlo, who flitted excitedly from one picture to another, but Cohen wasnt thrilled with Ostrovskys decision to display the picture of him as a gawky, bespectacled teenager.

Ostrovsky, one of the countrys veteran photojournalists and one of the few still active in the field after so many years, was really enjoying the honor bestowed upon him. He is 65 today and grew up in Tel Aviv in Dizengoff Square, to be precise. He started his professional career in journalism, first in the army and afterward primarily for this magazine. As a youth, Ostrovsky used to roam the Tel Aviv streets with a camera and take pictures, mostly of the Dizengoff area and the citys nightlife, which was already very lively.

Natan Dunevitz, founding editor of Haaretz Magazine, recalls the nice kid who knocked on his door one day.

He came to me with another kid, Danny de Picciotto, who was later called Danny Dagan and was the Haaretz correspondent in Germany, Dunevitz explains. He brought pictures that he took with a simple Russian camera and the other guy brought an article. Everyone wanted to publish pictures in the magazine then, because there were no other magazines. His pictures werent technically perfect, but I gave him work from time to time. He was very fortunate to be involved in the Tel Aviv bohemia and nightlife, and took a lot of photos there, because there wasnt much documentation of that sort of thing at the time. Photographers mostly stuck to well-defined subjects, and therefore his collection is very unique.

Ostrovsky attended the Tel Hai Elementary School, went on to Ironi Daled High School, but graduated from Shalva, a private high school for unruly children. He took up photography at age 12.

I traveled with my mother to America, to visit her parents there, and was given an old camera as a present and started taking pictures, he says, adding that his parents later took a trip to visit relatives theyd discovered in Russia and came back with a Russian camera for him, a Zorki 4.

Ben-Yehuda and Allenby Streets were filled with photography shops, he remembers. And I found one that did fantastic work. I photographed the flocks of starlings, the backyards of buildings, the Carmel Market, and he would develop them and tell me how good they were and gave me the motivation to continue.

Ostrovsky has fond memories of the first meeting with Dunevitz. He was like God to us. We were weak in the knees when we came to him. We were still soldiers. Danny Dagan didnt know how to write and I didnt know how to take pictures. Dunevitz read the article and told Danny how to change what hed written, and he told me to retouch the photos so there would be less contrast. I didnt know what he was talking about. I went to my primitive lab, printed everything again, and a little while later it was published. And after that there were more articles with my photographs. I was paid 18 liras per picture.

In 1969, Ostrovsky went to Milan to work in a photo studio, returning to Israel a year later. I came back with a big head of hippie hair and no one wanted to hire me.
Why didnt you get a haircut?

Ostrovsky: I always stuck to my principles and I never liked getting my hair cut. They even released me from reserve duty because of my hair.

He kept documenting Tel Aviv life, while he worked as a freelance photographer for newspapers and was also hired to do stills on the sets of local and foreign movies being filmed here.

My whole life I made my living just from photography, says Ostrovsky, who lives with his partner in north Tel Aviv and does not have any children. There were some tough times, and the income wasnt always so great.

One picture in the show depicts Golda Meir and David Ben-Gurion sitting in a stiff pose, being photographed for a documentary film by a French director.

Golda was prime minister then and she hated long-haired folks, recalls Ostrovsky. Right after we sat them down, the camera malfunctioned, so we left them sitting there under the lights and told them not to move until we brought the camera back from repairs. It was a bit of sweet revenge making Golda uncomfortable.

In 1982, after the war in Lebanon began, he left everything and went to New York for 10 years. He worked on different projects there, including one in which he photographed New York Jews. Later on he documented the immigration of Ethiopian Jews, and Bedouin life in the Sinai. His photos have been shown in solo and group shows, and published in various magazines in Israel and elsewhere. Now he devotes most of his time to photographing architecture, and was recently selected by the Italian architectural magazine Domus, which also comes out in Hebrew, to be its photographer in Israel.

The latest issue features Ostrovskys photos of the new design museum in Holon.
Ostrovsky calls himself a respectful voyeur, and says he detests paparazzi: In my time, this concept didnt exist, he explains. I never photographed people in embarrassing moments. A few years ago, the Tmuna Theater held an evening in memory of (actress) Talia Shapira and a lot of people came, including Arik Einstein, but I didnt photograph him because I knew that it bothers him. Our mothers were friends. His mother used to visit my mother at our house in Dizengoff Square. He was in the same class as my big sister. So I didnt photograph him.

Gila Almagor was one of the few people for whom Ostrovsky consented to create a series of photographs at the request of her husband, Yaakov Agmon.

It was November 1967, he says, with his perfect recall for the date of every frame he ever shot. I came to their house and was very nervous. I was just 22 and she was 27, very sexy, practically a star already, and I didnt know how to deal with that. I was overwhelmed.

Everyones a photographer these days, but the profession has become a thing of the past.

Ever since the digital revolution, photographys glory has declined. Thats why I do architecture photographs now.

If Israel had a museum and archive of photography, it would be possible to preserve your photographic legacy and that of other professionals who worked here, like Rudi Weissenstein and others.

If there were one, but there isnt and it doesnt seem like anyone really cares. I have a tremendous archive of 90,000 frames at least. One of the most important archives I know belongs to Paul Goldman, who photographed the War of Independence. His heirs sold 40,000 of his negatives at a dollar a frame. Thats peanuts. Boris Carmis archive was sold for $120,000. If I cant sell my archive here, either Ill try my luck in the world or Ill burn it.