Obituary

David Rubinger Respected Those He Photographed More Than Himself

The legendary Israeli had one quality that distinguished him from other press photographers. He never published a picture in which his subject didn't 'look good.'

David Rubinger with his Leica camera, 2011.
Shmuel.browns

From Golda in the kitchen to Begin helping his wife with her shoe – doors that were closed to most photographers opened to David Rubinger.

Rubinger had one quality that distinguished him from other press photographers. He never published a picture in which his subject didnt look good. While others didnt even consider the possibility that their subject could be hurt – Rubinger made sure the people appearing in his photos looked respectable. More than once he subdued his photographers ego and chose the less impressive photo. Every photographer knows how much ego has to be suppressed to do that.

My whole life Ive tried not to take paparazzi photos, he said in an interview to Maariv in 2008. They shoot moments in peoples lives that the public shouldnt see.

Rubingers respect for his subjects opened doors to him that were closed to other photographers. The most remarkable example of this is his famous photo of Menachem Begin putting a shoe on his wife Alizas foot, on a plane.

Rubinger was highly respected and appreciated, thanks to his discretion and gentlemanly behavior. If Im not mistaken, he is the only photographer Golda Meir allowed to photograph her in her kitchen, wearing a dressing gown and washing dishes.

Rubinger treated each photograph as though it were historically significant. Even the most negligible photo could be important in a historical perspective, he used to say. Every photo was important evidence in his eyes.

He was completely taken up by his work. Because of his talent, diligence and excellence and because he lived and worked in Israels defining years, he became the nations photographer. Because of Rubinger, press photographers in Israel were treated with respect they did not enjoy before Rubinger came along.

He may be remembered mainly for his famous pictures, but like every devoted, obsessive photographer (I cant remember him ever being without a camera) he took pictures everywhere, all the time. A photograph he took in 1956 is one of my favorites. It shows a bearded new immigrant walking on a gravel road, with a sack of potatoes on his shoulder and a few live chickens hanging down from his hand. The picture tells the story of a period, not merely of a certain person. The too-short long trousers, the oversized military boots, the shabby coat and above all the smiling face, depict a different era, different hopes, the kind that remain only in the picture.

On Tuesday I visited David. I wanted to say goodbye. I dont know if he heard me. I held his hand and thanked him for the many years in which he supported and encouraged me. When I was just starting out as a press photographer, I told David I had butterflies in my stomach before every assignment. He smiled and said: Do me a favor — when you dont feel the butterflies anymore, put the camera down.