Harry Weber [Vienna Today: Photographs of Contemporary Jewish Life]

Harry Weber expressed a wish to invoke the atmosphere of Brooklyn Heights or Williamsburgh when he photographed at the Leopoldstadt, Vienna's second municipal district. He commenced work on his essay "Heute in 'Wien" (Vienna Today) during the spring of 1994, immediately following the completion of his project entitled "Die Anderen" (The Others). The following series of images served initially to inaugurate a refurbishment of the Jewish Museum of Vienna and were first mounted to celebrate its reopening and the establishment of it's permanent exhibitions.
With very special thanks to the Jewish Museum of Vienna
Catalogue published by:
Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna
Dorotheergasse 11, 1010 Vienna.
To purchase the photography of Harry Weber, please contact:
Susi Schneider, U.S. Representative - Jewish Museum of Vienna
63 Emerson Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson, NY U.S.A. 10520
Telephone 914.271.9559   Facsimile 914.271.2329

A Blessing and a Photo for Posterity, photograph © Harry Weber

A Blessing and a Photo for Posterity, © Harry Weber.


Born in Klosterneuberg, outside of Vienna in 1921, Harry Weber became a soldier of the Jewish Brigade after emigrating to Palestine in 1938. Returning to Austria in 1946, he married and obtained a posting at the Viennese bureau of Stern Magazine in 1952. Weber eventually became Stern's chief photographer and retained this position until 1974.

Included among the many venues Weber has photographed are the Salzburg Festival and the Theater in der Josefstadt. Weber's numerous books include "Wien bei Nacht" (Vienna at Night) and "Wien: Geisichter einer Stadt" (Vienna: Faces of a City). Local exhibits have included two at the Salzburg Festival and "Die Anderen" (The Others) at the Historical Museum of the City of Vienna. Mr. Weber is the recipient of the Dr. Karl Renner Award for journalism and currently makes his home in Vienna.

During March 1997, the exhibition "Vienna Today" - Photographs of Contemporary Jewish Life by Harry Weber was exhibited to great acclaim in the Cannon Rotunda on Capitol Hill. After it's showing at the US Congress, the exhibition moved to the Austrian Embassy in Washington D.C. and is currently travelling throughout the United States and Canada.

living in Leopoldstadt photograph by Harry Weber

Living in Leopoldstadt Vienna second municipal district
© Harry Weber.
At the Religious Centre, Ohel Mosche, photograph © Harry Weber

At the Religious Centre, Ohel Mosche
Vienna 2nd municipal district© Harry Weber.
Baking Matzoth, Ohel Mosche, photograph © Harry Weber

Baking Matzoth, Ohel Mosche, Vienna, 2nd municipal district © Harry Weber.


Embedded in the photography of Harry Weber is his devotion to the exploration of the contemporary milieu. And in the case of his project "Vienna Today", Weber becomes very much his own subject. Weber was born and raised Jewish in Vienna, so one could naturally assume he might someday return to exact his commentary. Weber's independent experience in being Jewish however remains unobtrusively separate from the subjects at the front of his lens.

What is portrayed in his study is a strong sense of both familiarity and continuity amongst the Jews living in Vienna, despite past alienation leading up to the Holocaust. Indeed, this very tiny community has come full circle. Numbering some 2000 individuals, their commitment to re-establish themselves in Austria following the catastrophe affords a sometimes perplexing yet always intriguing social examination.

From this perspective, the work might be construed as autobiographical, but it is not a self-portrait. True enough, the similarities are there. Weber was born and raised Jewish in Vienna. Weber was forced to emigrate in 1939 and lived until the end of the war in Palestine. In spite of it all, Weber returned to Austria. From this springs the element of dEja-vu, however most of the similarities begin and end there. By Weber's own account, the camera presents only surface solutions, exposing only the visible. His approach, therefore is to leave it up to the subject to fully describe the experience of his own Judaism.

To enter into such a world with one's camera is of course, incongruous. Any photographer, Jewish or not might certainly be construed as an outsider. So how does Weber come to evoke his experience without predicating himself in a reverberation of their seeming ghettoization? Is it possible to clarify events while not pressing some reliance on that idealistic admiration which exists in the very triumph of Jewish survival? Weber's images are neither voyeuristic nor exalting. Weber renders visible what is invisible without over-emphasizing that which is recognizable.

A career spanning four decades has positioned Harry Weber as a chronicler of the human experience. In his own style, Weber typically unfolds the mystery of an event without so much fanfare and without predisposing himself toward depicting the crowd. By focusing upon the individual he invokes the larger element. Indeed, this feature of the group illustrated by the individual is an attribute which presents itself over and over again in his work. Much of Weber's photography at festivals and celebrations are in fact solitary portraits.

Samy Malcho at the Reinhardt Seminar, photograph © Harry Weber

Samy Malcho at the Reinhardt Seminar
Vienna, 14th municipal district © Harry Weber.
Religion on TV, photograph © Harry Weber

Religion on TV, Chief Rabbi Eisenberg before the TV broadcast "Shalom"
ORF Centre, Kniglberg © Harry Weber.

Full reconciliation of Weber's study requires some understanding of the history of Vienna's Jews, whose throngs often paralleled their degree of marginalization. In 1847, Vienna's Jewish community numbered approximately 1600, due in large measure to several great expulsions which had taken place during the 15th and 17th centuries. In 1867, however, a fresh and more relaxed political regime offered unprecedented political and legal rights to Austria's Jewish population which afforded their emancipation.

For many Viennese Jews, this precipitated a perception that to retain such privileges required a degree of assimilation. Austria began to realize tremendous immigration from other European nations. But the new "Austrian" manner of combining nationality and religion was a bone of some contention with neighboring Jews. Newer immigrants tended to remain traditionally observant. For their parts, they felt no pressing desire to assimilate themselves. Jews native to Austria often considered themselves both Austrian and Jewish. Jews native to other countries saw themselves as Jewish, and Jewish only.

By 1910, the Jewish population in Vienna had swelled to 180,000 which represented 10.8% of it's population. Of this minority, an uncharacteristic number were students, industrialists, professionals, financiers and politicians - fully 80%. Compare this to the make-up of Berlin. Only 3.8% of its population was Jewish with only 10% of those persons being involved in the same urban occupations. What this infused was a sense of suspicion and endemic racism which took root where it was most identifiable. It could be immediately recognized in the Jew who refused to assimilate. To blend or not to blend. It was an issue then and remains very much an issue today.

Vienna is divided into several municipal districts. The first municipal district, where Harry Weber grew up was decidedly more upscale and perhaps somewhat more secular than the Leopoldstadt. The Second Municipal District waxes mythical, therefore. The second district is home to many Orthodox and traditionally observant members of the community who remain deeply committed to their traditions, to their families and to Vienna, in spite of it's dubious past.

Satires and Chansons from Theresienstadt, photograph © Harry Weber

"Chansons and satires from Theresienstadt", Theatre im Rabenhoff
Vienna,3rd municipal district © Harry Weber.
Playing Backgammon, photograph © Harry Weber

Playing Backgammon © Harry Weber.
Bridge Club at WIZO, photograph © Harry Weber

Bridge Club at WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization)
Vienna, 2nd municipal district © Harry Weber.
Marietta Torberg and Leon Askin at the consecration ceremony, photograph © Harry Weber

Marietta Torberg and Leon Askin
at the consecration ceremony © Harry Weber.
Georg Tabori and Ursula Hepfner, photograph © Harry

Georg Tabori and Ursula Hepfner
Vienna, 18th municipal district © Harry Weber.
Bar-Mitzvah celebration aboard the restaurant ship johann strauss

Bar-Mitzvah celebration aboard the restaurant
ship "Johann Strauss", Danube Canal, Vienna © Harry Weber.
After the Victory, photograph © Harry Weber

After the Victory,
basketball team of SC Hakoah © Harry Weber.

If a photograph has the ability to stop time then Harry Weber's unique talent is his masterful capacity for blending the past with the immediate. In the series "Vienna Today", Weber formulates a compelling picture of a Jewish life which is vastly multifaceted and which recalls a problematic past while exploring modern realities.

 more photographs from the series "Vienna Today" by Harry Weber
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