Photographing People in the Holy Land

Encounters with the people of the Holy Land presented a number of challenges that affected the work of early photographers. First, exposure to the local inhabitants was limited and selective, as many photographers traveled only along the main roads that connected sites of tourism and religious importance. Then there was the language barrier: in many cases photographers relied on professional Dragomans for guidance, travel logistics, and interpretation services. This dependence of Western travelers on their guides resulted in a mediated and, consequently, a limited and distorted travel experience.

On Plain of Esdraelon

L[uigi] Fiorillo

Felix Bonfils
Damascus Gate

L[uigi] Fiorillo
Vendeur d'Eau [Water Seller]

Fontaine de la Vierge: Nazareth

Felix Bonfils
Porte Judiciaire, VIIth Station

James McDonald
Views within the City: Ancient Gateway at the Damascus Gate

Even with an interpreter at hand, vast cultural differences remained. These were further enhanced by the imbalance of power that dominated the encounters between photographers and their subjects. Photographers sought to control every aspect of the making of the image, while remaining seemingly unnoticed; they were looking at and showing the subject to Western viewers through their eyes, while the subject was being looked at.

Although the exact nature of these interactions remains obscure behind the final images, a few unique examples from the Lenkin Collection offer a rare "behind the scenes" look, by revealing the photographer's presence and the awareness by the subjects of this presence. By addressing both the photographer's and subject's points of view, these images draw the viewers closer into the image-making process and demonstrate the experience of photographing and of being photographed in the Holy Land.