04 December 2007

New York: 19th-century Holy Land photos

Yeshiva University Museum in New York has opened the first exhibition of 19th-century photographs of Israel by James Graham (1806-1869) and Mendel Diness (1827-1900). It will be open through April 6, 2008.

"Picturing Jerusalem" offers 70 rare prints of the Holy Land by Diness and Graham, and original items used by them. It features some of the earliest known images of the city.

The exhibit is the result of a garage sale discovery in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1989, an American photographer found old boxes of glass plate negatives, silver prints, ntoebooks and other materials.

The last known showing of Graham's work was in 1862 in London, and this exhibit is an international traveling exhibit; the last stop will be the Israel Museum.

A Scottish missionary, Graham was among the first Europeans to travel to the region under Ottoman rule in the 1850s. He documented landscapes, temples, tombs and other historic sites, and was one of the first photographers to live in Jerusalem.

Graham's student, English-born Mendel John Diness, a former watchmaker, became the first Jewish photographer in Jerusalem. He later converted to Christianity, eventually settled in the U.S. and became a preacher.

The exhibit includes unique albums by both men, photographs of historic sites, related paintings and prints, a camera lens, a wooden negative box and notebook. Images include the Dome of the Rock, the Temple Mount and Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. The notebook holds Diness' handwritten notes (1853-1857, Jerusalem).

A unique album of 87 Graham photographs was donated in 2005 to the Center for Jewish History and the Israel Museum by Katja B. Goldman and Michael W. Sonnenfeldt, as inspired by James Garfinkel, in honor of the Center for Jewish History's former executive director Peter A. Geffen. This album is jointly owned by the Center for Jewish History and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. "Picturing Jerusalem" was organized by the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and curated by Nissan N. Perez, senior curator of the Noel and Harriette Levine department of photography.

The Yeshiva University Museum is located at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th St, in New York City.

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