Bow and String

The two of us stood outside, behind his room. Not to move, please. He aimed the camera and fiddled with it and looked at me and fiddled some more.

1. On page 105 of Guy Raz's book "Photographers of Palestine/Eretz-Israel 1855-2000," which surveys the history of the art of photography in the Land of Israel, are three works by a photographer who lived and worked on the kibbutz where I grew up. I remember him well, his gaunt, fat-less body, surprisingly young-looking for someone born in 1910, his clenched jaw, his hair combed to the side with a straight part. I remember his wife, who sometimes ate at the same table as my grandmother in the dining room. Big-boned, straw-yellow hair, melancholy, sunken face.

2. The day arrived on which I, like all the children, was sent to him to have a small passport-size color photograph taken. The two of us stood outside, behind his room. Not to move, please. He aimed the camera and fiddled with it and looked at me and fiddled some more. Stretch the back, bitte, bitte, stretch more, like bow und string, lean back, straight-straight. Why doesn't she answer? The brown nut leaves burned the brown earth and the blades of grass thrust out like the wisps of white hairs from his gray tank-top, and in the window of the back room I saw for a moment the face of his wife, shaking her head as though saying no-no and then disappearing. And the white snapdragons yawned gapingly in the stuffy wind. I felt hot in my tank-top and striped blouse and overalls that were sewn for me, because I wore them all for the photograph. Layer upon layer.

Not good, take please a floor-wiper and turn it over, thank you. I turned it over and rested elbows and chin on the black rubber strip, and with drooping braids and closed mouth had my picture taken. Like all 12-year-old girls, I thought at the time that my smile was not as pretty as my serious, dramatic expression.

3. In one of our regular Sunday telephone conversations, my grandmother told me that the photographer had died. How, I asked. She told me that he had gone to see a movie in the regional council building, six kilometers from the kibbutz, and when he came out of the movie discovered that the kibbutz members who had brought him had already left. Finding no one to give him a ride home, he decided to walk. He walked and walked along the road, passing the entrances to the nearby kibbutzim, got as far as the kibbutz and dropped dead at the gate. He was 83 and in superb health.

4. He was a photographer who documented the history of "the Valley": the constellation of big construction projects, such as the pumping station for the water from the Yarmuk, and the composition of the cultivated land. But apparently what he liked best was photographing women and girls.

In the book is a photograph entitled "The Vinegrower." Shot from below, it shows a young woman with hornet hips, her slim body like a statue of Athena, cone-like breasts erect as drinking glasses. I think that's what he was after in my floor-wiper photo, but he didn't get what he wanted.