The man who chronicled Sydney Jewish life

October 23, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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Former NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell MP, has joined communal identities in paying tribute to the commitment and contribution of veteran Sydney Jewish community photographer, George Denes, who has passed away aged 82 years.

George Denes

George Denes

Survived by his wife, Irene, Mr Denes’ involvement in community activities  spanned over more than four decades from the 1950s to the early 2000s and he was a familiar identity at Jewish news events, simchas and organisational functions.

In 2004 he gave the historic records, including  photographs, negatives and proof sheets which chronicled the Jewish community to the Australian Jewish  Historical Society, so that these would be preserved for future generations.

Mr O’Farrell said Mr Denes had come from humble beginnings of a happy childhood in Hungary, surviving the darkest period of the Holocaust and later moving to Australia with the commitment to make a strong contribution.

“I am aware of how George Denes started in photography at the Air Force Base in Warrington, near Manchester UK and continued this lifetime career since coming to Sydney, “ he said.

“He earned respect as a commercial photographer specialising in the theatrical performing arts and the development and construction industry, as well as being closely identified for many years in covering and documenting community life for the “Jewish News” and the busy activities of many communal organisations,

“His qualities of modesty, understanding and quiet demeanour earned close friendships and admiration for the person he was without the need for accolades,” Mr O’Farrell said.

Former Executive Director of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Margaret Gutman, described George Denes’ work as being “a priceless collection of our  Sydney Jewish lives”.

“While his photographic skills were central to telling our communal stories and events for many years, he was never one to seek the limelight for himself. His quiet,courteous manner and European elegance encouraged collaboration and confidence,” she said.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Mr Denes hid as a 12-year-old  in October 1944 to escape being transported by the Nazis to the Ravensbruck death camp and managed to survive until the end of the war.

Arriving in Sydney in 1950, he subsequently worked in the Postmaster- General’s Department, before establishing his photography business, Camera Press Services in 1958.

Mr Denes’ long-standing links with the “Jewish News” came when he rented studio space in 1958 near the then AJN office in lower George Street, the Rocks, and befriended Ernie Burger who was Editor at that time.

He became official photographer for a host of organisations including the United Israel Appeal, Jewish Communal Appeal, Jewish National Fund, State Zionist Council,  NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Australian Jewish Welfare Society (Jewish Care) , Montefiore Home, WIZO, National Council of Jewish Women, the Great Synagogue and Sydney Yeshiva.

At the same time, he developed a successful commercial photography business, with key clients including the Commonwealth Bank, Ervin Graf and Albert Scheinberg’s Stocks & Holdings, Sir Paul Strasser’s Parkes Developments and JC Williamson Theatres.

Mike Golland, who was Editor  of the Sydney Jewish News and Managing Director, Australian Jewish Times and Australian Jewish News in the 1960s and 1970s, said George Denes “was synonymous with the Jewish press as he captured on film the historical, the dramatic, the spectacular (and non-spectacular), social and sporting events for publication”.

“In true newspaper fashion, George never missed an assignment, met every deadline, which often required developing and printing the film in his darkroom until the early hours of the morning. He had the ability to be inconspicuous, yet  his camera captured the very mood of the story he was covering. Each photo proved to be just what the editor ordered,” he said.

“For much of his life he was the quiet, unassuming photographer for the Jewish community and for a number of high profile commercial enterprises.

“He was a humble man who did not insist on a by-line for his published work. From the first time meeting way back in the mid-1950’s until retiring from the Jewish newspaper world some 40 years later, George, with his wry sense of humour, remained a friend in the old fashioned sense of the word, “Mr Golland said.

Former “Jewish News” Editor, Susan Bures, whose late father and community leader, Louis Klein, was publisher of the “Australian Jewish Times” from 1969 which he subsequently merged with the “Sydney Jewish News” in 1973, said “the truly remarkable thing  about George Denes was his self-effacing nature”.

“He was always there, recording the small affairs and the weighty, the lives of the community and its leaders. He never seemed to intrude, never made himself part of the story. Yet he was in so many ways part of the glue which held it all together,” Ms Bures said.

“George was a truly gentle man, quietly spoken, immensely hard working and particularly knowledgeable about the people, the organisations and the events he covered. He didn’t have to be told what to do or how to do it. He was totally reliable, a real professional and together with the much loved and talented Peter Morrison, he formed part of the community’s underlying structure,” she said.

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