THE BIBLE AND THE IMAGE: The History of Photography in the Holy Land, 1839-1899 by Yeshayahu Nir

THE BIBLE AND THE IMAGE: The History of Photography in the Holy Land, 1839-1899

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A bothersome book. Nir, a documentary filmmaker from Israel, argues in this overlong, pedantic, but rewarding work that from its very inception photography has molded truth to the cultural expectations of the photographer and his audience. Aiming his analytical lens at the early history of photography in Palestine, Nir discovers considerable evidence for his claim. French travelers took pictures o f churches, temples, and monuments, reflecting the importance of architectural aesthetics to the Catholic sensibility; British Protestant travelers concentrated on biblical landscapes; when studio portraits came into vogue, natives were depicted wearing costumes, hair styles, and props that suited the prejudices of the time. Moreover, since the Jewish and Moslem inhabitants of Jerusalem were largely indifferent to photography--graven images playing little role in their cultures--the camera doubled as a subtle means for domination by foreign colonial masters. Alas, Nit develops his thesis in such tedious detail that casual readers will skim his text and concentrate on the striking photos. Although many of these 110 images are grainy or washed-out, others are clear, bright, and well-composed, and almost all possess immense historical or ethnographic value. On the one hand, an absorbing coffee table volume of historical photographs; on the other, a dull presentation of some important reflections on the hidden psychology behind photography. As such, of limited general appeal.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press