Published: November 27, 2007
Yeshiva University Museum will present the first exhibition of Nineteenth Century photographs of Israel by James Graham and Mendel Diness. On view December 4⁁pril 6, “Picturing Jerusalem” includes 70 rare vintage prints of the Holy Land by Diness and his teacher Graham along with a selection of original artifacts used by the photographers.
Organized by the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and featuring some of the earliest known images of Jerusalem, the exhibition is the result of discovery at a garage sale in St Paul, Minn., in 1989, when an American photographer came across some dusty boxes of glass plate negatives, silver prints, notebooks and other photographic material. This will be the first known exhibition of James Graham’s work since an 1862 exhibition in London. Yeshiva University Museum provides the exhibition’s premiere venue on an international exhibition tour. The tour’s final stop will be the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Scottish missionary James Graham played a vital role in the history of photography of the Near East. He was among the first Europeans to travel to the region in the 1850s, then under Ottoman rule. He meticulously documented landscapes, temples, tombs and other historic sites in the region, in photographs of stunning print quality. One of the first photographers to reside in Jerusalem, Graham had a unique photographic vision that stemmed from his intimate knowledge of the city.
Graham’s expertise was passed along to his student Mendel Diness, who became an accomplished photographer in his own right. Originally a watchmaker, Diness was the first Jewish photographer in Jerusalem. He later converted to Christianity and was forced to close his watch making business due to boycotts by Jewish clientele. He eventually settled in the United States, where he became a preacher.
“Picturing Jerusalem” includes unique albums by Graham and Diness, individual photographs of various historic sites within the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, a selection of other related paintings and prints, a camera lens, a wooden negative box and notebook. Images reveal Nineteenth Century scenes of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount, as well as Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. The notebook on view features handwritten notes taken by Diness in Jerusalem between 1853 and 1857. The exhibition’s images, documentary materials and related programs will expose visitors to the history of 1850s photography, while highlighting the medium’s role in luring tourists to pilgrimage sights in the Holy Land.
The exhibition’s unique album of 87 James 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 now 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.
Yeshiva University Museum is at 15 West 16th Street. For information, 212-294-8330 or www.yumuseum.org .
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