Friday, August 10, 2012

The 'Kotel' Exposed with the Advent of Photography,
Old/New Photos of the Kotel Now Online in Great Detail --
With Thanks to the Library of Congress Archives

"Exterior of Haram-Ash-Sharif, Wailing place of the Jews" by Peter Bergheim
(1865).  The newly available photo allows us to explore details usually not seen
Bergheim established a photographic studio in the Christian Quarter. A
converted Jew, he was well aware of Jerusalem's holy sites.
A version of this article appears in the Jerusalem Post Magazine today.

The advent of ocean-going steamships and tourism to the Holy Land and the development of photography all went hand-in-hand in the latter half of the 19th century. Tourism encouraged photography and photographs encouraged tourists, explained photography curator Kathleen Stewart Howe, author of The Photographic Exploration of Palestine.

Enlargement shows memorial graffiti on the
Western Wall with the names “Eliyahu, Elka,
Sharf, Shaul”  The two figures may have been
models; indeed it is impossible to tell if the
 seated, veiled and gloved individual is a man
 or woman.
While the first people to look at Palestine through a lens were amateur photographers and missionaries in the 1840s, by the 1860s professional photographers began to visit holy sites and even establish photo studios. Military explorers and surveyors often used the services of the photographers.
The "wall of wailing" by Frank Mason Good. The Library of Congress dates the photo
as published in 1881. The authoritative Palestine Exploration Fund records that it was
taken by Good during his first trip to the Near East in 1866/67. Good's panoramic
picture of Jerusalem appears as the title photo of this website above.

Among the tourists were Mark Twain and his “Innocents Abroad” companions in 1867. His party stayed at the same Old City Mediterranean Hotel as a British survey team headed by Lt. Charles Warren.

The American Colony settlers who arrived in 1881 eventually established a tourist store inside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City where they sold their photographs. They capitalized on the fierce demand for pictures of the German emperor’s visit to Jerusalem in 1898.  

An enlargement shows an unusual piece of furniture in the picture. Muslim rulers didn't allow benches,
chairs, screens or other furniture.
On the stand appears to be a lantern or even a Sephardi Torah case.
Is there a man next to it pressed against the wall? Note the feet.

The Library of Congress archives contain not only the 22,000 photographs of Palestine by the American Colony photographers, but also pictures dating back to the 1860s by pioneering photographers Felix Bonfils, Peter Bergheim, Frank Good and others. The American Colony pictures were donated to the Library of Congress and classified as “public domain.”  Photographs of the Western Wall by the other photographers, some more than 130-year-old, were available to researchers within the Library, but never “made public” Online. 
"Wailing place of the Jews, Solomon's Wall," Jerusalem.  The
Library of Congress dates the picture in the 1890s and doesn't
name the photographer. But the name Bonfils can be seen in the
enlarged photo. Other similar photos in the Getty collection prove
that Frenchman Felix Bonfils was the photographer and that the
picture was taken in 1869. Bonfils died in 1885.

In response to our recent inquiries, the head of the Photo Research Division explained, “Our legal counsel has asked us to allow 130 years to elapse before displaying larger images outside Library of Congress. Based on the available information, I was able … to display outside Library of Congress buildings for some of the images you mention.”

These photographs are presented here and are now available to the public Online. The old glass plate photographic technique, rather than paper and film, provides viewers with an amazing enlargement capability.  

A similar Bonfils photo (Getty)

Enlargements from Bonfils photo

Click on pictures to enlarge.
Click on captions to view the Library of Congress originals with the option to use "Tiff" enlargement.

"Ashkenazi Jews" who may have
been models (1867)
In viewing these 145-year-old pictures, bear in mind that these are not the spontaneous snapshots of today. The pictures required long exposures and extensive set-up, Stewart Howe explained. Often the subjects were models dressed to play the role.

That was apparently the case of the seven “Ashkenazi Jews” photographed at the Mediterranean Hotel in the Old City in 1867 by a member of Lt. Charles Warren’s expedition team.

"Exterior of the Haram-Ash-Sharif. Wailing place of the Jews,"
by Peter Bergheim (1865). View a similar picture here
Enlargement of the worshippers

This collection of 19th century photographs presents a portrait of Jerusalem's Jewish community, a pious population who gathered at the retaining wall of Judaism's most sacred site. According to the 1871 visitor to Jerusalem William Seward, the American Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, the Jews comprised half of the city's population, the Muslims one-quarter, and the Christians and Armenians the remainder.

1 comment:

  1. You mentioned in the caption of the enlarged picture that on the stand there appears to be a lantern or Sefardi Torah case. I was wondering if it might be a Chanukiyah in a glass box as it appears to me to bare a resemblance to those which we use on Chanukah in Israel today. It even looks to me like there are multiple small flames, like those of a Chanukiyah, lit in the box.