Aleksandrowicz > The Photographer

The Photographer

​Ze’ev (Wilhelm) Aleksandrowicz was born in Kraków in 1905. His father, Synaj Zygmunt, the owner of a prominent paper wholesale business, was communally and philanthropically active as a member of the city council and one of the leaders of the Jewish community. His mother, Hela Rakower, was a descendent of one of the largest and long-standing Jewish families in Kraków. Aleksandrowicz studied in a Hebrew primary school and in a Polish high school, after which he was sent by his family for higher education at trade schools in Vienna and Basel with the aim of preparing him for the family business.
Aleksandrowicz had been attracted to photography from a young age. His aunt Róża, who ran a renowned art supplies business across from the Arts Academy in Kraków and who was connected to the artistic and cultural circles of the city, gave him his first camera for his tenth birthday. Yet, Aleksandrowicz's close family did not support him in turning his hobby into a profession: according to his own account, his parents were reluctant to see him become a professional photographer since they had regarded photography an undignified occupation. Despite their view, Aleksandrowicz decided to pursue photography, being an enthusiast fan of this form of expression. Since the early 1930s, after acquiring two modish Leica cameras which gave him extra-flexibility in choosing his photographic themes, he started to shoot regularly, sending his photographs to Jewish and Zionist newspapers in Poland and the United States. The papers published them as photo reports under his name.

Aleksandrowicz's passion for photography is evident from the unusually high number of photographs taken during his short photographic career. His work documents his affection for humans of all races and nations and his talent for approaching the people he photographed. In many photos it seems as if Aleksandrowicz had managed to step into places that a chance visitor would have tried to avoid or would find difficult to enter. Aleksandrowicz saw great importance in capturing “decisive” moments on film and in paying meticulous attention to the overall composition of the frame. His identification with the Zionist movement is evident from the photographs he took in Palestine; this went hand in hand with great empathy towards all the local inhabitants, Jews and Arabs alike. Since he did not dependent on photography for a living and was free to choose his photographic themes as he wished, Aleksandrowiz's photographs are not affected by the sometimes profound ideological bias which characterizes many of the photographers who were active in Palestine during the same time.

Aleksandrowicz’s most productive period as a photographer was the first half of the 1930s. Soon after his marriage in 1936 to Lea Chelouche, the daughter of one of the long-standing families in the Jewish Yishuv (the pre-1948 Jewish settlement in Palestine), Aleksandrowicz stopped photographing almost completely except for occasional photographs of close family members. Nevertheless, during his twilight years Aleksandrowicz revisited his old photographs: he sent some of them to an international exhibition organized by the Museum of The Jewish Diaspora, “Jewish Heritage in the Eye of the Camera” (1984), and received a special prize. Following that achievement he gave a small number of prints and negatives to the Museum’s Visual Documentation Center.

Aleksandrowicz passed away in Tel Aviv in 1992. Eleven years after his death, a tattered leather suitcase was discovered by chance at his home, in which the fruit of his art was hidden – more than 15,000 negatives found rolled up in tin boxes. The great majority of these negatives have not been printed during his lifetime. His family still wonders why he had never mentioned the existence of this large negative collection, especially after receiving renewed recognition as a photographer in his final years.