A new state-funded project lets photo albums tell the history of the Land of Israel
The project, in which the state has already invested NIS 1.2 million, aims to preserve national heritage by digitizing and archiving hundreds of thousands of photographs.
Photo albums belonging to people who lived in the Land of Israel during the 19th and early 20th centuries will now be used to broaden research efforts into the history of the territory. The state has already invested NIS 1.2 million in this project, which aims to preserve national heritage by digitizing and archiving hundreds of thousands of photographs.
The latest photo album to join this trove, the first documented album in the Land of Israel, was uncovered by Dr. Nirit Shalev-Khalifa, a curator at Jerusalem's Yad Ben-Zvi Institute, during the course of her research.
The album's photographer and editor was Elizabeth Finn, wife of James Finn, the British consul at the twilight of Ottoman rule in the second half of the 19th century. The daughter of an Irish missionary, she arrived here with her husband in 1846.
At the time, Jerusalem was a poor provincial town, home to several thousand inhabitants and afflicted by disease. In 1850, a British missionary known only as Bridges arrived at the Finn home to recover from the loss of his wife and daughter, who had been killed by a crocodile while on a mission to Africa.
Bridges was a friend of William Talbot, one of the pioneers of photography; when Finn heard from the visiting missionary about the new technology, she asked for a camera. An enormous camera soon arrived in the Land of Israel and Finn set off to capture the first celebrities of Jerusalem - men of the cloth, consuls, dignitaries visiting the city, local nobility, Jews and Arabs.
Shalev-Khalifa analyzed the photographs themselves, as well as their overarching relationships and the choices Finn made in putting the collection together.
"She was actually writing the history of herself and her community. This was an entirely new approach in which everyone began recording their own history," Shalev-Khalifa says.
The collection, contained in a red hard-backed album decorated with bronze, includes 51 photographs. Most were taken by Finn herself at a studio she set up in her home.
One photo captures Britain's Prince Albert Edward, son of Queen Victoria, who visited in April 1862. He would later become King Edward VII.
"Nearly the entire population of Jerusalem came out to welcome his majesty," Finn wrote in her diary. "When we passed the city clock, volleys of cannon fire were fired from the gun on the citadel."
The prince posed near a tree which, according to Finn, had been there "when the city was conquered by the Crusaders."
"This photograph foreshadows what will happen many years later, in the power struggles over the country and during the British mandate. You can see from this image that, even back then, the British intended to imitate the Crusaders. It's important to remember that such a shot requires a great deal of planning, and that it was not haphazard," Shalev-Khalifa says.