Gidal is considered one of the founders of modern photojournalism. He was born in Germany and studied law, history and art history in Munich and Berlin. He started studying photography as a Zionist student. His first published pictures appeared in 1929. As a Jew, he had to leave Germany in 1933, and afterwards lived in Switzerland, where he wrote a doctoral dissertation on photojournalism, the Middle East, and India, before settling permanently in Jerusalem. From 1938-1940 he worked for Picture Post, and in 1942–1945 for the British Army magazine Parade. After World War II, he moved to the USA, where he wrote, joined the staff of the New School for Social Research, and served as an editorial consultant for Life Magazine. He later held academic posts in the USA and Israel.