Category Archives: 1900s Photos

Photography and Visitors to the Holy Land

The Crimean War from 1853-56 was the first reported by daily newspapers and documented by photographs. Hungarian-Romanian photographer de Szathmàri took photos during the war and created albums which he personally offered in 1855 to Napolean III of France and Queen Victoria of England. British photographer, Roger Fenton was sent on assignment to the Crimea for 4 months in 1855 and managed to take over 350 large format photographs.  The Crimean War weakened the Ottoman Turkish empire that had been in power for almost 400 years. European countries recognizing the “sick man on the Bosphorus”, came to visit and stake their claims.

When guiding I point out how the 1860s were pivotal in Jerusalem’s development. In 1860 the British philanthropist Mose Montefiore had Mishkenot Sha’ananim built, the first apartments outside the walls of the Old City. The introduction of steamship travel made it easier to visit foreign countries and with the advent of photography it was possible to bring back images from your travels. One of the earliest such trips was a visit in 1862 to the Holy Land by the 21-year-old Prince of Wales that was documented by the photographer Francis Bedford.

Jerusalem from Mount of Olives, 1862 Francis Bedford

Jerusalem from Mount of Olives, 1862 Francis Bedford

Mark Twain reported on his travels to Europe and the Middle East in 1867 in Innocents Abroad and while in Jerusalem stayed at the Mediterranean Hotel at the same time that the British explorer, Charles Warren was there. The year 1869 marks the opening of the Suez Canal, Thomas Cook escorts his first tour group to Egypt and Palestine and the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph visits the Holy Land, the first crowned head of a Catholic country to visit since the Crusades. In 1873 a group of German Protestants that had already settled at Haifa and founded the German Colony there bought land in Emeq Refaim in Jerusalem to build their colony. Christian Arabs left the Old City and built new homes creating the Greek Colony and Katamon neighborhood. Just before the end of the century, in 1898 the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and Augusta Victoria visited the Holy Land; the logistics were arranged by Thomas Cook & Son. The year 1898 is widely accepted as the start of the American Colony Photo Department which documented the Kaiser’s visit, although one of its members had produced photographs earlier.

Let’s go back to February 6, 1862 just eight weeks after his father’s death when Edward, Prince of Wales, and his entourage left England for Egypt. The group crossed Europe to Venice by train, where they joined the royal yacht Osborne for the journey to Alexandria. This was the starting point for the well-planned itinerary that had been chosen by Edward’s father Albert in consultation with a group of scholars and politicians, an extensive tour of the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece, part of the process of preparing him to be a model modern constitutional monarch. The group travelled on horseback, camping out in tents. Dr Stanley, spiritual advisor and Dean of Westminster, acted as tour guide because of his extensive knowledge and experience traveling in the East. He would provide a running commentary of both the history and Bible references as they related to the places they visited. Specifically, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Capernaum and Nablus were all names that were particularly significant because of their association with the Bible. The Prince, heir to the throne, would also be guardian of the church so these were places to know about.

April 3, 1862: Our tents were struck at 8.30am and we started at that time (on horseback of course) for Bethlehem, which we reached in about a couple of hours time, stopping on the way at Rachel’s tomb, and it was ascertained for certain that the tomb is on the site of the real one.

April 21, 1862: We lunched under a fig tree at 12 o’clock on the site of where once the city of Capernaum is said to have stood + Mr. Bedford photographed us ‘en groupe’

     – extracts from the Prince’s journal

British photographer Francis Bedford (1815-1894) was invited to make a photographic record of the tour, his most important Royal assignment. Some of the equipment could be taken with him but most had to be sent ahead, to be collected at Alexandria when they arrived. On the tour itself, Bedford would have needed porters to carry all the equipment, a large heavy camera, 10×12 inch glass plate negatives, chemicals, portable darkroom. Many of the materials were fragile and unstable, especially when exposed to extremes of temperature. For each photograph, Bedford had to coat and sensitize the plate, position it in the camera while it was still wet and then expose it. Once the image was captured the plate had to be developed and fixed, while excluding all light; lastly, the plate had to be washed. The photos are remarkable when you consider the conditions and that photography was in its infancy having been invented 21 years earlier.

Valley of Jehosaphat, 1862 Francis Bedford

Valley of Jehosaphat, 1862 Francis Bedford

 Garden of Gethsemane, 1862 Francis Bedford

Garden of Gethsemane, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford


For those who can be in Edinburgh, the photographs from the Prince’s visit in 1862 taken by Francis Bedford, which belong to the British Royal Collection, will form part of a new exhibition Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, from March 8, 2013.

Advertisements

Photographs 1900

Walking around in the Arab shuq you might notice that many of the shops have matted black and white photographs from the turn of the century of Jerusalem and Israel for sale. It’s not clear who the photographers are or when the photos were taken but you can learn a lot about how Jerusalem developed at the end of the Ottoman period and transition to the British mandate from these photos. It’s interesting to compare a photograph taken today at the same place with the similar early photo.

If you are walking through the Muslim quarter toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Al Khanka Street you will find the shop Elia’s Photo with black and white photographs going back to the 1920s in the window. On entering you will meet Kevork Kahvedjian a delightful gentleman who I’ve heard speak English, Hebrew and Arabic (he’s Armenian so most likely he speaks that too) who will be happy to talk with you and show you the photographs. Most of the photos on display were taken by his father Elia (reprinted from the original negatives) but some are even earlier that Mr Kahvedjian has collected. There is also a hardcover book of 131 of his father’s photographs, “Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes” (their website lists it at 230 NIS, on Amazon  it’s $200. – it makes a great present or souvenir).

Elijah Meyers founded the American Colony Photo Department in 1898 (though some photos are earlier). Meyers, who emigrated from India, was a Jewish convert to Christianity. 1898 was the year of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and Augusta Victoria’s visit, an auspicious start to the photographic enterprise as people were interested in photos of the visit.

Meyers instructed the young Swede Lewis Larsson in photography. Larsson (1881?-1958) was among the original group of Swedish colonists who arrived in Jerusalem in 1896 and became one of the most skillful of the photographers. Not only a keen observer, Larson travelled extensively in the Middle East between 1903 and 1910.

Larson knew what scenes were important to capture visually – he photographed landscapes, scenes of village life, the violent struggles at the end of World War I with the collapse of Ottoman empire. In 1904, Lewis Larsson succeeded Elijah Meyers as head of the Photo Department. Larsson ran the department for the next thirty years, even while he served as Vice Consul and later Swedish Consul for Palestine from 1920 to 1925.

G. Eric Matson (1888-1977) also came to the American Colony from Sweden in 1896 with his family as a young child. He began working in the Photo Department darkroom as a teenager in the early 1900s, although it is uncertain when he actually began taking photographs. Matson married an American, Edith Yantiss who also worked in the darkroom.

Together the Matsons excelled in innovative techniques, such as coloring photographs with oil paint, producing double stereoscopic photographs to create 3-D pictures, taking photographs with infrared film and aerial shots.

In 1934, the original colony disbanded and Matson gained control of the Photo Department with its large collection of photographs. The Matsons continued their photographic work under the American Colony Photo Department name until 1940, when they renamed the business the “Matson Photo Service.” In 1946, in the face of increasing violence in Palestine, the Matsons left Jerusalem for southern California. The staff shipped the bulk of the glass plate negatives to the United States, with the remaining negatives relocated to the basement of the International YMCA for safekeeping (unfortunately when retrieved in 1970 they had sustained water damage). By the early 1950s, with tourism on the decline, the Photo Service’s staff dispersed, forcing the closing of the Jerusalem operation.

Realizing the Collection’s historic value, in 1966 Eric Matson donated the thousands of negatives and 11 albums of contact prints to the Library of Congress who have digitized the images and made them freely available on the Internet at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/matpc/ – a great record of Jerusalem and Palestine during the first 50 years of the 20th century.

Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm II

Herzl and German Kaiser

Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1898

This photograph was taken on October 28, 1898 outside of the agricultural school at Mikve Israel when Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, astride a white stallion, with helmet of gold stopped for a moment on his way to Jerusalem. By the roadside, stood a solemn figure with a black beard: Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism. Herzl considered the Kaiser’s recognition crucial for international approval of his plan to resettle the Jews in the land of Israel. All the Kaiser could muster was the observation: “The land needs water, very much water.”

What’s wrong with the photo? First, the Kaiser is on a dark horse. The original unusable photo can be viewed by clicking here.

On the right edge of the original photo you can just make out Herzl holding his safari hat. The Kaiser’s horse has its head completely out of the frame. Can you imagine taking such a poor photo? Have you ever had one of those days, when nothing seems to go right?

To salvage the situation a photo of Herzl was taken on the roof of the school and superimposed onto the photo after seating Kaiser Wilhelm II on the dark horse and cropping the photo on the right.

Surprised? Actually there are quite a few examples. See the Time magazine website http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1924226,00.html on “Doctored Photos” with the warning “photographers have been manipulating imagery since the medium was invented”.

Here are another two photographs from the early 1900s of Jaffa Gate, after the Kaiser’s visit (the wall has been breached and the moat filled in so that the Empress Augusta Victoria’s carriage can enter). These photos were taken by one of the photographers of the American Colony, probably Lars Larsson. Which one is the earlier one? Do you think the image in either one of them has been manipulated?

Jaffa Gate, Old City, ~1900

Jaffa Gate, Old City, ~1900 (American Colony Photo Department)

Jaffa Gate, Old City, ~1900 (photographer: Eric Matson)

Jaffa Gate, Old City, ~1900 (American Colony Photo Department)

The clock tower at Jaffa Gate was one of seven built by the Ottoman Turks in 1908 on the occasion of the silver jubilee of the reign of the Sultan abd al-Hamid II (there are still clock towers in Jaffa, Safed, Nablus, Haifa, Nazareth and Akko) but was taken down by the British about 1920.

The entire American Colony/Matson collection of photographs, some 22,000 negatives were donated by Eric Matson’s heirs to the American Library of Congress who have digitized the collection and made it available for viewing at http://memory.loc.gov/pp/matpchtml/matpcac.html