Archive of the Month June 2012 – Pictures from a tour in Palestine 100 years ago & appeal for help in identifying the photographer
RCB Library Notes
Added on 01/06/2012
The June Archive of the Month at the Church of Ireland’s Representative Church Body Library features a rare collection of lantern slide images of a tour in Palestine taken at least 100 years ago.
By the late 19th century, ‘the tour of Palestine’ was an increasingly fashionable possibility for the adventurous traveller and earnest pilgrim, and a host of guide books were published in response to the growing trend. In tandem with the growing popularity of tourism, photography also developed. What is more unusual is the survival in Ireland of a comprehensive collection of original images in their storage box, enabling the viewer today to track the journey of an early 20th–century Irish pilgrim from behind his lens as he travelled before the First World War to Jerusalem, via the port of Jaffa, to view the holy sites and street scenes in the city and its environs, before exploring several other locations in Palestine, including Bethany, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, the Jordan and the Dead Sea, Shechem (modern–day Nablus) and Nazareth.
Now, probably for the first time since they were processed and shown to the photographer’s fascinated contemporaries following his return home from the region, digital technology makes it possible for a worldwide audience to time travel with him as he captures the wonders of the holy sites, as well as rare glimpses of daily life for ordinary people in the streets of Jerusalem and other places throughout the Judean ‘wilderness’, and a sense of the nature of travel via steam ship, railway and carriage in Palestine as it was during the last days of Turkish rule.
The RCB Library is now appealing to the public for help in identifying the photographer, who as yet remains unidentified. But a glimpse of what he may have looked like is captured in one particular image. In the cramped grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a European–looking man is seen posing looking towards the altar in the recess (where according to tradition Jesus was born at the top of the former cave) attended by a Greek Orthodox priest and guarded by an armed Turkish soldier. As the online presentation speculates, it is possible that the photographer set up the camera on its stand in the cave, just behind a little boy who appears kneeling in the foreground, and either had time to hop into the photograph or had organized someone to take it for him.
In total some 74 images make up the Palestine lantern slide collection now available online. In their original format on glass each measures 80mm x 80mm and all are in good condition. They were found arranged randomly in their original storage box, so to make some geographical sense for the online presentation have been rearranged using the contemporary itineraries published in Baedeker’s travel Guide to Palestine and Syria, published in 1912. The presentation covers the arrival by boat at Jaffa – considered the port of Jerusalem and gateway to the Holy Land; the journey down to Jerusalem by train; stunning panoramic views across the old city and of each of the main gates; various holy sites in the city and its immediate environs including the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Mosque of Omar, or Dome on the Rock; street scenes showing everyday life; as well as excursions to Bethany, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, the Jordan and the Dead Sea, Shechem (modern–day Nablus) and Nazareth. Most of the slides were labelled with a brief description by the photographer, making it easy to identify most of the locations, while others have been identified during the archival re–arrangement.
After one panoramic view of Nazareth, the slide show concludes abruptly. The traveller might have returned to Jerusalem, or perhaps he moved west to Haifa to catch his steam packet home, or there again he might have continued his travels by road further north into Syria. No further images survive to tell us of his onward journey, or how his Holy Land journey was completed. We can only speculate and hope that at some future date the photographer and his story might be more fully explained, but in meantime the images he has left provide a taste of travel in the Middle East a century ago.
To view the “tour of Palestine 100 years ago” slide show visit:
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
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