Aliza Auerbach, Photographer and Chronicler of Israeli Society, Dies

Born in Haifa in 1940, Auerbach’s best-known images were of pioneers, new immigrants and Holocaust survivors.

Aliza Auerbach, photographed in 2007.
Assaf Evron

Aliza Auerbach, a renowned photographer of Israeli society – including new immigrants and Holocaust survivors – died on Tuesday after a battle with cancer. Her funeral was held yesterday afternoon at Kibbutz Givat Brenner.

Born in Haifa in 1940, Auerbach studied philosophy and bible studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, then became a teacher. She only began engaging in professional photography, which she taught herself, in 1972.

Her first photographs, documenting Jerusalem, were published in an anthology of poetry. She later specialized in portrait photography, took stills on movie sets and worked with various newspapers, including Haaretz, The New York Times, The Jerusalem Post and German weekly Die Zeit.

Her main focus was documenting Israeli society. Her three big projects, all published in book form, concentrated on images of the pioneers; new immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia in the 1990s; and Holocaust survivors. Her works were also shown in group exhibitions at, among others, the Israel Museum and The Jewish Museum in New York.

In 1974, she presented a solo exhibition, “Israeli Youth,” which toured worldwide under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry. Auerbach also published books documenting motherhood and working women around the world.

A retrospective of her works, “Life,” will open in September at Ein Harod Museum of Art, curated by Guy Raz. In recent weeks, he and Auerbach decided which of her works would appear, and in which order.

One of Aliza Auerbach's photographs in the "Reading" exhibition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2013.
Aliza Auerbach

“Most photography, from the late 1970s and early ’80s and ’90s, switched to art,” says Raz. “Auerbach remained a photographer, engaging in big documentary projects. Nobody else was doing it. She was in the seam between war photographers like Micha Bar Am and David Rubinger, and documenters of day-to-day life like Alex Levac. Auerbach took photographs with a historic perspective. She wanted to document the pioneers and Holocaust survivors before they disappeared, and knew how to identify the historic turning points of the great immigrations to Israel. Artists are generally less involved in history and the state has no concept of systemic documentation,” he adds, but Auerbach “fulfilled an important element in the collection national memory.”

She knew her power as a photographer lay in the documentary genre, Raz notes, but the retrospective will end with her switch to a more artistic form of photography. “She took an abstract series of photographs of ocean waves,” Raz says. But that, too, was connected to Israel “Since she was born in Haifa, it was closing a circle with her childhood,” he adds.

Auerbach leaves behind her partner, the art researcher and curator Gideon Ofrat, and their daughter, artist Eden Auerbach Ofrat.

One of Aliza Auerbach's subjects
Aliza Auerbach