Tag Archives: photographs

Photo of the Week – Judean Desert

Among deserts, the Judean desert is considered relatively small, spanning only 1,500 square kilometers, but it includes many fascinating nature reserves, historic sites and monasteries that make it an interesting and unique place to visit. An area bordered by cliffs on both sides it is a desert with running water and in one place geothermal springs. If you are into photography its primeval panoramas make it a special place to photograph. As your guide I’ll take you there to explore.

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The technical details – this photo was taken in the afternoon with my Nikon D90 digital SLR camera in February 2013 (ISO 200, 52mm, F11 at 1/400 sec). Clicking on the image will display it larger.

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Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in buying or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

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Shmuel Browns

December 2, 2012

Hanukah, Christmas and Kwanza are celebrated  around the time of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. At this holiday season, I am pleased to announce the opening of my new online store, Designed in Israel, where you can buy products (like calendars and notecards) that include images of my photographs and artwork. As far as I know I am the only Israel guide that has an online store [update, as of 2017 the store no longer exists].

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.

Technology at Israel Museums

The Google Art Project spent months mapping the Israel Museum with cameras mounted atop bicycles and photographing 520 objects, artifacts and artwork from the Museum’s collection. The outcome is an online compilation of high-resolution images accessible over the Internet and a virtual tour of the museum using Google’s Street technology. The Israel Museum was among 151 museums in 40 countries taking part in the second phase of the project. Currently more than 30,000 high-resolution objects from museums around the world are available for viewing and items can be found by various keywords, location, artist, collections, etc.

Archaeological items included are the only dedicatory inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judea in the time of Jesus found at Caesarea, the oldest Biblical text, Priestly Blessing from Numbers 6:23 on silver amulet found in tomb at Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem (you can read my blog post at https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/ketef-hinnom-silver-amulet/ ) and Theodotus synagogue inscription in Greek found near the Temple Mount. There is also artwork, for example, the triptych Gates of Jerusalem by Mordecai Ardon (you can read my blog post on the Ardon Windows at https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/ardon-windows-isaiah-vision-peace/).

The Google Art Project creates images larger than 1 billion pixels in size, the zoom-in feature allows viewers to get inside cracks in the parchment and other details that are not visible to the naked eye – a really fascinating collection of treasures worth exploring. Kudos to the Israel Museum for making these images available.

The project follows last year’s collaboration with Google to make the famed Dead Sea Scrolls accessible in high resolution on the Internet. When announced the site drew a million viewers within the first few days. Five of the Scrolls, including the Great Isaiah Scroll 1QIsaone of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947 are viewable at http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/isaiah.

Google has also partnered with Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, to make its photographs and documents searchable on the Internet.

“Mendel takes out his camera. No more flowers, clouds, natures, stills or landscapes. Amid the horror all around him he has found his destiny: to photograph and leave behind a testimony for all generations about the great tragedy unfolding before his eyes.”

Mendel Grossman’s photos constitute a small portion of the historical photos in Yad Vashem’s collection. The project will facilitate preservation of and access to the world’s largest historical collection on the Holocaust. Google implemented experimental optical character recognition (OCR) technology to carry out this project, making previously difficult to locate documents now searchable and discoverable online. As of today, 130,000 photos from Yad Vashem’s archive, the largest of its kind in the world, are viewable in full resolution online. The collections are visible at http://collections.yadvashem.org/photosarchive/en-us/photos.html. This is a first step towards bringing the vast Yad Vashem archive online over time.

Yad Vashem has also launched a YouTube channel to showcase a series of videos of Holocaust survivor testimonials. The YouTube channel is available at www.youtube.com/yadvashem. There is also a YouTube channel with more than 400 hours of original video footage from the landmark 1961 Jerusalem trial of Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann at http://www.youtube.com/user/EichmannTrialEN.

If you know of other technology projects that are being developed in Israel please share by leaving a comment about them. If you peruse the images leave a comment here of your impression.

Mosaics at Hirbet Midras

All of the floors recently uncovered in the church at Hirbet Midras have incredible mosaics, that are extraordinarily well preserved. The mosaics include both intricate geometric designs and floral, fauna, fish, birds and fruit. The tesserae are fine, 7mm cubes in an assortment of colors enabling the artists to create realistic images. You can click on any of the images to see it in higher resolution.

The apse of the church with a geometric rectangular carpet; the curved part has an image of a rooster and duck in a design of grapevine tendrils and bunches of grapes.

Display of mosaics in the aisle, geometric patterns on either side of a panel with chukar birds.

Close up of the chukar bird panel.

Panel that combines birds, fish and lotus.

Image of a lion attacking what looks like an ibex among grapevines. Interesting to compare it with the image of the lion attacking the deer under the tree from Hisham’s Palace (Khirbet El-Mafjar, 7th century) near Jericho.

Byzantine Church, Hirbet Midras

Amir Ganor is not your usual archaeologist. Although he works for the Israel Antiquities Authority he packs a handgun because his primary responsibility is apprehending thieves who plunder sites for valuable artifacts to sell on the antiquities market. In this case a group of Palestinians were breaking into the complex of tunnels and caves in the Judean Coastal Plain or shefela in the area of Beit Guvrin, specifically Hirbet Midras, looking for coins and other treasure. This led Ganor to the site where a large stone lintel was uncovered.

The same lintel was first uncovered in the 1980s and based on the expert opinion of Prof. Amos Kloner was thought to be from a synagogue since it was almost identical to one found in the north at Hirbet Nevoraya. Ganor requested approval and support from the Antiquities Authority to excavate the area to discover more about the public building. Within a short time very impressive and beautiful floor mosaics were uncovered. Large dressed stones with what look like Byzantine crosses were discovered when the plaster covering them fell off. Combined with the architectural details, an apse, a crypt, mosaic floors, it seems that the building was a church. The church was destroyed by an earthquake some 1,300 years ago and lay mostly covered until the 19th century. The columns and capitals are displayed exactly as they were found, lying parallel on the ground and the northern wall is angled out from the movement of the earthquake.

There are several construction phases, in the last two the building was used as a splendid church. However, in the first phase the excavation shows that the later church was built inside a large public compound from the Second Temple period. The church, in its last phases, was built as a basilica, a central nave and two wide aisles that are delineated by eight marble columns with magnificent capitals which were specially imported (the eight bases can be seen but only 3 capitals and columns remain). The front of the church had a large flagstone courtyard, a narthex, and at the end of the nave is a raised bema or platform (that was added later – you can see that the mosaic floor continues under the bema).

All of the floors in the building were adorned with incredible mosaics, that are extraordinarily well preserved; these include both geometric designs and floral, fauna, fish, birds and fruit. Today I went out to the site to photograph the mosaics (before they are covered to protect them until the site can be readied for visitors). You can view them at https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/mosaics-hirbet-midras/

Located behind the bema are two rooms, one paved with a marble floor and the other that led to an underground tomb that was empty.

Beneath the entire building is a subterranean complex in which there are rooms, water installations, traps and store rooms for hiding. Among the artifacts discovered are coins from the time of the Great Revolt (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba uprising (132-135 CE), stone vessels, lamps and various pottery vessels that are characteristic of the Jewish population from the settlement at that time.

Scholars who visited the site during the excavation proposed identifying the crypt as the tomb of the prophet Zechariah. Early Christian sources identified his burial place in the village of Zechariah which was discovered in 415CE. In light of these sources, including the Madaba Map (the building with the apse with the Greek, ΒΕθΖΑΧΑΡ to its left is Bet Zechariah), scholars think the church at Hirbet Midras is a memorial church meant to mark the tomb of the prophet Zechariah.