Friday, July 27, 2012

The Jews' Wailing Place -- Photographed 150 Years Ago

"The Jews' Wailing Place" (circa 1860)
A version of this article appears in the Jerusalem Post Magazine, July 27, 2012
This high-resolution photo of the Kotel was taken by Peter Bergheim (1813-1875), one of the first resident photographers in the Holy Land.  He set up a photography studio in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem; his family owned a bank inside the Jaffa Gate.

A converted Jew, Bergheim was well aware of the holy sites of Jerusalem.  Three of his pictures were reproduced by the British Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem by Charles Wilson, who, in 1864, was one of the first surveyors of Jerusalem -- above and below the surface of the ground.

To put the photograph in chronological perspective, the picture was taken when Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States, Queen Victoria was in the middle of her reign, and disciples of the Gaon of Vilna had finished building the "Hurva" synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City.

Besides the massive American Colony Photographers’ collection of more than 20,000 photos (taken between 1898 and 1946), the Library of Congress archives also contain ancient photos by 19th century photographers Bonfils, Bergheim, Frith, and Good. 

A similar perspective of the Kotel taken by the
American Colony photographers 80 years later
(circa 1940)
 Until now, the Library has not opened these photos to online viewers, citing copyright restrictions.  At the request of this writer, the Library has assured that within days several of these historic photos will go online with no restrictions and with truly unusual resolution.  They will, of course, also appear on these pages.
Photograph (1869) by French photographer Félix
Bonfils (1831-1885) who opened a studio in
Beirut in 1867. Might this be a self-portrait?
(Ken and Jenny Jacobson Oriental Collection,
Library, Getty Research Institute)

Click on photographs to enlarge.

Click on caption to view the original photograph in the Library of Congress archives.

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