Bio: Israeli, b. Germany, 1909-1996
Title: Night of the Cabbalist
Medium:Gelatin silver print
Dimensions:Sheet: 12 × 11 1/4 in. (30.5 × 28.6 cm) Image: 9 × 8 1/2 in. (22.9 × 21.6 cm)
Credit Line:Purchase: Gruss Family Fund in honor of Regina Gruss
Geography: Meron, Israel, Middle East, Asia
Copyright:Nahum Tim Gidal, © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Many photographers of Tim Gidal’s generation, such as André Kertész and Henri Cartier-Bresson, depicted aspects of daily life and banal events, planning the composition and all the formal elements in the frame in order to create a visual harmony. Gidal, on the contrary, believed more in intuition and stated, “I leave it to the object to express itself with the assistance of my camera.”
Tim Gidal’s photographic career spanned the greater part of the twentieth century, and he was one of the innovative photographers whose work helped guide the development of modern photojournalism from the late 1920s. His photo reportages, transmitted in his direct, photographic style, are invaluable historical and social documents.
The 1930s witnessed a massive immigration of photographers from Europe to the Land of Israel. At the beginning of his career, Gidal was not under the influence of other photographers, nor did he know any of the leading figures in the field. Nonetheless, in his accomplished modernist photographs taken in the 1930s, he was clearly aware of prevailing artistic attitudes as he experimented with composition, viewing angle, and other aspects of photographic language.
Born Ignatz Nachum Gidalewitsch in 1909, he began his photographic reporting in 1929, with images that appeared throughout Europe. In 1932 and again in 1935, Gidal spent several months in Palestine. He immigrated there in 1936 but continued to travel and work as a photographer for magazines around the world.
In the photograph Night of the Cabbalist, which also has been called Night at Meron or Lag B’Omer on the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, the man sleeps atop the building, waiting for the night to pass and the moon to wane. In this near-Surrealist depiction, time seems to stand still, and yet it marks Lag B’Omer, the thirty-third day of the counting of the omer, which begins on the second day of Passover and continues until Shavuot. The photograph documents the major celebration held in Meron, in Upper Galilee, believed to be spot where Bar Yohai, the second-century rabbinic scholar whom kabbalists consider to be the author of the Zohar, is buried. The man on top of the roof is one of thousands of Hasidim and kabbalists who gather to celebrate, sing, and dance. It is not unusual for Jewish pilgrims to travel to Meron and other burial sites to prostrate themselves on the tombs of holy people, where they beseech the deceased to intercede with God on their behalf.
This work signifies Gidal’s ability to recognize and record special moments, and the incident captured in Night of the Cabbalist is the result of careful observation and sympathetic concern for human situations. Gidal often made photographs in series comprising a journalistic essay that conveyed the subject, the event, and the atmosphere. In the series of photos taken in Meron during the same period as Night of the Cabbalist, Gidal conveyed the impact of the festival of Lag B’Omer.
In this work, Gidal sympathetically captures the man propped on the roof while acknowledging the ceremony being marked. He merely documents what he saw and experienced. He has no mission or agenda, and stated: “The viewer can take what he sees, if he sees, or leave it.”
Text Source: Berger, Maurice et al. MASTERWORKS OF THE JEWISH MUSEUM. New York: The Jewish Museum, 2004, p. 54.