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1932 - 2017 

Photographer's Autobiography

 

“My hobby for photography has started in the first post-WW2 years.

 At this time, there were no manuals, no photo clubs or any courses. Only the old textbooks were available, which explained how to photograph on glass plates and listed chemicals for processing that has long gone from the market.

The only Soviet-language magazine,"Soviet Photo" was published with socially oriented production photographs.

Photographic life revived in the mid-50's. There were colleagues - photography enthusiasts and brochures with basic information on photographic equipment. But the main breakthrough in the development of photography in all its diversity occurred after the start of the distribution in the Soviet Union of the wonderful Czech magazine-review "Photography". It became clear that photography is not a technical monster, but art.

My acquaintance with the talented Moscow photo master Alexander Vikhansky gave me a lot. His work opened for me another world - the world of art photography. The great influence of the Baltic photographers was undoubtedly - these are Gunar Binde, Wilheim Mikhailovsky and others. In the same years, the Odessa photo club was opened in my city. Participation in international exhibitions has begun (the portrait in Isogel received a silver medal at an exhibition in Italy). It was a real opportunity to get acquainted with various graphic movements in the world of art photography, as the organizing committees sent catalogs to exhibitors.

In the 60's, I began to publish in the Odessa youth newspaper and in the newspaper "Evening Odessa". Ilya spent about six months in Moscow, where, as a freelancer, he shot for APN (Novosti Press Agency). The unpleasant side of this work was that the captured film came at the disposal of the publisher, and the negatives did not return to the author.

Having returned to Odessa, he renewed contacts with young artists (Lusik Mezhberg, Misha Cherry, Sasha Anufriev, Volodya Strelnikov, Lucien Dulfan, Alexander Roitburt, all of them are the future "second avant-garde"). The journalist and collector Yevgeny Golubovsky supported young artists, helping them to exhibit and realize their work.

He often invited me as a photographer to accompany him when visiting these guys apartment studios. Communication with artists, viewing works and comments by Golubovsky became a wonderful school: they developed artistic taste, a sense of color and composition.

For young artists and photographers to get to the pages of Soviet publications was a pipe dream. No "innovations" were allowed. No nudity, no street life, nostalgic still lifes. For artists and photographers, exhibitions were the only way to demonstrate their work, and even then under the supervision of party bodies. Artists, not members of the Union, could not officially sell their work through a gallery or at an exhibition, but they (not all) were helped by the Union of Artists Foundation, which gave orders. Photographers did not even have such opportunities. As a rule, they had to work at enterprises during the day. The photography occurred in the evenings and weekends. Contacts with artists helped me create a series of "Portraits of Artists".

In the early 80's, I left the design bureau and went to work as a head of the photo laboratory of the Odessa Theater and Technical Art School. The shooting of bright, colorful and, at those times, talented works of students was carried out, on black-and-white film (imported color film was in short supply, the Soviet one was of poor quality). I worked at the school before moving to Israel in 1991.

From 1992 to the present, I have been photographing for the Vesti newspaper. My photo archive is probably of interest to a specialist who studies the history of “Gush Katif” before the demarcation, the period of intensive repatriation (flights of the ship “Shostakovich”), weekdays and holidays at “Beit-Ole" le”. ”

 

Ilya did not mention the photo reports from scenes and the vivid report of “The Second Lebanon War:"A look from Haifa, which got not only on the pages of the newspapers, but also on the exhibition stands. Ilya remained the "chronicler of Aliya" (repatriation) almost until to the last days of his life.

Ilya compiled this autobiography for a personal exhibition held in Haifa in 2016 with the support of the Ministry of Aliyah&Absorption and the "Zafon" photo club.

In 2015, in Ramat Gan (a city next to Tel Aviv) in the Museum of  the Russian Art, Maria and Mikhail Tseytlinyh held the exhibition "Photos as texts of the Soviet era". The idea, formulated by curator Lesia Voyskun, is to compare the official photo (the works of Yevgeny Shishko, which has been published in central party newspapers and magazines in Lithuania for more than forty years) and the informal direction - pictures of Odessa engineer and amateur photographer Ilya Gershberg. The author-compiler of the catalog Lesya Voyskun writes: “Odessa itself is the invariable hero of photographs of Gershberg: its city courtyards, the famous Privoz market, Odessa port, pioneer camps and the Black Sea beaches" .These works evoke associations with pictures of the“ decisive moment ”by Henri Cartier-Bresson, and also reminiscent in their aesthetics of shots from films of Soviet cinema of the early 60's and Italian neorealists, who turned the ordinary and everyday into an object of art. ”

 

In 2016, Odessa residents staged an exhibition of photographs by Ilya Gershberg entitled “Portraits of Black and White History”. We quote the compiler of the catalog, Evgeny Golubovsky: “It is so nice sometimes to look back and see everyone young. Overflowing with plans, romance, irony and cheerful. Yes, they were like that. Odessa artists of the sixties - eighties, And they remained so in the photographs of Ilya Gershberg. After all, nothing is needed, To be in the place where the event takes place and capture it on film. This is exactly what I. Gershberg managed. Therefore, before us is a panorama of portraits of the protagonists of the Odessa art underground, the “apartment block” in the house of Alla Shevchuk - paintings by Vladimir Strelnikov are posted and the most important event is the “Fence Exhibition” ... Not only artists, but their wives, girlfriends ... I'll tell you about one shoot - in the workshop of Lucik Dulfan. I warned him that I would not come alone, but with a photographer ... I did not take into account the psychology of the famous inventor Dulfan. He prepared, dressed like an oriental merchant, stood in Napoleonic poses and least of all wanted to take pictures of the paintings. ”

A small detail: according to Golubovsky, Ilya printed in large format photographs of Strelnikov and Anufriev near his paintings, and then these artists painted their paintings directly on the photographs.

In Israel, Ilya, of course, became close to artists, and not only to former residents of Odessa. So a series of photographs appeared in the village of Ein Hod. Artists, where some of them managed to settle down and at the Basis School of Art, created in the early 90's by the sculptor from Lithuania David Zundelovich, which is taught at mainly by Russian-speaking artists and sculptors.

Important for Ilya was the period of work in tandem with the journalistic Judith Agracheva. One of the directions of their activity was the search and recording of stories of people who survived the Holocaust of European jews. Their faces and amazing evidence gathered in Agracheva’s articles should, in Ilya’s deep conviction, be preserved in one form or another.

As a result of trips from Agracheva around the country, Ilya’s archive was replenished with photographs of famous refuseniks, prisoners of Zion.

Ilya’s photojournalistic activities took place at a turning point - the transition from good old photography to “digital”. There was a time when it was required to instantly print the picture and immediately send it to the newspaper in Tel Aviv with a courier. Ilya complained that “the progress is too fast”, but fully mastered the new situation. And the suitcase of negatives exported from Odessa, transferred to digital storage.

It is impossible to come to terms with the fact that Ilya Gershberg himself went down in history.

Now the exhibition hall in Beit Ola (House of Repatriates) bears his name, which was taken care of by Ilya’s friends at the "Zafon" photo club.