HUDSON–Photographer Jacob Elbaz’s gallery at 711 Warren Street displays Mr. Elbaz’s photographs, along with paintings, drawings and photographs by a variety of artists in a variety of styles. The gallery is part of the Three Rivers Art Project, a not-for-profit corporation Mr. Elbaz started in 2015 for the purpose of providing Middle Eastern artists with funds, supplies and resources, promoting their artwork and fostering opportunities for them to meet American artists, art collectors, and arts representatives. It has three branches: Sde Nehemiah in northern Israel, 77 Mercer Street in Manhattan, and Warren Street.
Mr. Elbaz, a dual citizen of Israel and Canada and a permanent resident of the United States, was born in Morocco in 1945 and moved to Israel when he was about 8. There, he spent most of his youth on Kibbutz Sde Nehemiah, where three rivers meet. Dyslexia made reading difficult for him. But his first girlfriend’s father was a photographer and awakened in him an interest in photography.
Shortly after completing his compulsory military service as a paratrooper, Mr. Elbaz bought a camera and took pictures as an amateur. “I taught myself. I never studied photography or art in an institutionalized way,” he says in a book about his pictures.
In winter 1963, the Jordan River flooded the kibbutz. Mr. Elbaz placed a chair in the center of the flood waters, put a cat on it, took several pictures, and soon after delivered the film canister to the Israel Sun Photo Agency in Tel Aviv. A few days later, he discovered one of his photographs of the cat in the chair on the front page of the weekend supplement of the major newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth. And “to my surprise, I discovered the newspaper pays for pictures.”
Thus began his career as a professional photographer. He got an ID from the government press office, and his military reserve duty became “photographer for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) spokesperson’s office.”
In 1965, at the age of 20, Mr. Elbaz moved to Jerusalem to be a freelance photojournalist. His career grew. The ID allowed him to attend state events. He photographed famous people, such as Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan.
In 1972, at the invitation of a friend, he moved to Toronto, and soon became a photographer for the Canadian Jewish News. The following year, he returned to Israel briefly, to serve in the Yom Kippur War as an IDF photographer, but the same year he won first prize in a Canadian photography competition. Back in Canada, he began to “trade in art and produce prints for artists.” In Toronto he and a friend opened a gallery called Posters International, which sold reproductions and framed photographs.
Learning English was a struggle for him. Now, though his English seems fluent, he says he has trouble reading it.
Starting in 1976, Mr. Elbaz began visiting New York City as a tourist. In 1979, while walking in Manhattan’s Soho district, he passed a tiny store for rent on Thompson Street and signed a lease as soon as he could get a lawyer. There he opened a poster and fine art gallery and hired a salesman to run it. Eventually he owned two galleries in Soho and produced prints for artists.
For about the next decade, Mr. Elbaz traveled back and forth between his galleries in Toronto and New York City. Through his photography, he associated with famous Americans, Canadians, and Israelis in both the political and the art worlds. Then, in about 1987, he met a woman in New York. Soon he sold his Canadian businesses and moved to New York full time. He married the woman, had a son–Aviv, and divorced amicably about 10 years later. As of September 2019, Aviv, 28, lives in Boulder, CO.
In 2010, Mr. Elbaz went to Sde Nehemiah for the first time in many years in order to create an art center. That center now has five buildings for a gallery, studios, metal welding, print making, and framing.
Meanwhile, Deborah Davis, who had an art gallery in Hudson, frequently came to Mr. Elbaz’ gallery in Manhattan. Eventually he visited her in Hudson and decided he “liked it.”
Mr. Elbaz’s photographs displayed in his gallery include groups and pairs of people: Israeli soldiers in a circle, a family on a stairway, Brooklyn Hasids burning an Israeli flag. There are photos of a little boy and a soldier, a Hasidic man talking with an African-American woman, and an erect man with a stooped man. Some photographs are color, some black and white.
Mr. Elbaz says that for the rest of his life, he wants to alternate between the places he says he holds dear: Sde Nehemiah, Toronto, and New York.
Meanwhile, some mornings, he can be seen walking around Hudson with a camera around his neck. Hudson, Mr. Elbaz said in a conversation last summer, “is a small, diverse city. You have local people. You have outside people. It’s only two hours to Manhattan. It has very good weather; you can feel four seasons. When I go to Manhattan, I’m excited, but when I’m there, I can’t wait to get back to Hudson.”