South African Jewish Photography: Eastern European Immigrants and the Western European Canon

  • Karina Simonson
Keywords: South Africa, Leon Levson, Eli Weinberg, apartheid, Baltics, anthropological photography, studio photography, social documentary


The article explores how and why Jewish photographers in South Africa, who had immigrated from Eastern Europe, used Western European art history and iconography to construct their artworks or convey the messages of their artworks. Specifically, it critically examines the legacy of two representatives of the first generation of Jewish immigrant artists in South Africa, Leon Levson (1883–1968) and Eli Weinberg (1908–1981), whose public activity and professional contribution left a strong mark on South African culture. The article assesses Levson’s and Weinberg’s works from a contextual and comparative perspective, revealing their genre diversity. Their works are systematised in the following categories: anthropological, studio photography, social documentary, and journalistic photography; the influence of pictorialism on their creative work is also analysed. The author argues that the Eastern European identity and political climate of the lifetime of these two selected photographers influenced their creative work much more than their Jewish roots.