The PhotoHouse: Israel’s past, present, and future at 75 years

by | Mar 30, 2023 | What’s Happening

Alene and Ron Kaufman at the PhotoHouse’s temporary location in Tel Aviv.

Screening of Life in Stills:

Wednesday, April 26, 7:30 pm, Sandler Family Campus

As the adage goes, a picture tells a thousand words. How many stories could be written, then, from millions of photographic negatives?

The PhotoHouse, founded in Tel Aviv in 1940 by Rudi Weissenstein, is the home of these negatives, Weissenstein’s life work, telling a story of a young Israel beginning a decade before and some decades after she became a state.

Weissenstein was born in 1910 in what is now the Czech Republic. After studying in Vienna, he arrived in Palestine in 1936—where he began documenting important events and day-to-day life as a freelance photojournalist. Weissenstein founded The PhotoHouse with his wife, Miriam, who also became his business partner. He continued working, becoming the official photographer of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948.

The PhotoHouse is filled with photographs and negatives captured by Weissenstein from 1936 through his death in 1992. The archive—Israel’s largest private photography archive­—has stayed in the family for three generations. Its current owner, Ben Peter, is Weissenstein’s grandson. Peter will visit Tidewater this month as the community celebrates Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.

Peter began working with his grandmother in 2005. The pair fought Tel Aviv authorities to save The PhotoHouse’s original location at 30 Allenby Street. After a lengthy legal battle, the property ultimately went to the city for use in a controversial construction project in 2011. That same year, Miriam Weissenstein died at 97 and was buried next to her husband in Herzliya.

Peter opened a temporary location for the shop and archive at 5 Tchernichowsky Street in Tel Aviv, where it remained for 12 years. Peter and his partners are now returning to its original location. This made the recent visit to The PhotoHouse by UJFT Israel mission members special.

“We were very impressed by Ben’s desire to keep his family’s work active and alive, and a part of our history,” says Alene Jo Kaufman. The group from Tidewater visited the temporary location on its final operating day. “Here we are at the end of one part of his life, meeting him as he moves on to the next phase,” says Kaufman. “I look forward to seeing him again, seeing the photos he chose for the exhibit in the Leon Family Gallery, and making the most of this opportunity to celebrate Israel at 75 with him and The PhotoHouse.”

The fight to save The PhotoHouse is documented in the 2011 film Life in Stills by Tamar Tal. The film, which won the Israeli Academy (Ophir) Award for Best Documentary in 2012, will be screened at the Simon Family JCC on April 26; a discussion and Q+A with Peter will follow. This event is presented as part of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, Simon Family JCC, & Community Partners’ 12th Annual Israel Today Series, in partnership with the Alma & Howard Laderberg Virginia Festival of Jewish Film.

A rotating collection of photographs from The PhotoHouse’s archive has been featured in the Sandler Family Campus’s Copeland Cardo since mid-November. A campus-wide exhibit of Weissenstein’s photos, curated by Peter and framed by The PhotoHouse, will be on display in the gallery through June 2023.

Peter will also attend the community celebration of Israel @ 75 on Sunday, April 30, 12–4 pm.

For more information about The PhotoHouse or Israel @ 75, email Hunter Thomas, director of Arts + Ideas at the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, at

Hunter Thomas