Photo Credit: Elia Kahvedjian
Zeppelin airship over Jerusalem, view from the Kishle. 1931.

Jerusalem (TPS) – A German zeppelin flying over Jerusalem, dignitaries on swings in a playground near the Old City walls, the funeral of Israel’s first chief rabbi Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, and dancing gypsies are just some of the photos depicting Jerusalem of old in a special exhibition at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The exhibition, called “The Camera Man – Women and Men Photograph Jerusalem 1900 – 1950,” displays over 100 photos, both digitized and a small number of originals, that highlight some of the major photographers – Jews, Muslims, and Christians – of the first half of the twentieth century who lived and worked in Jerusalem.


The curator of the exhibition, Dr. Shimon Lev, who himself is a photographer and historian, told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) that locating the unique historical photos, some of which come from the American Colony Archive Collections and the Central Zionist Archives, was challenging. “For 18 months, we worked liked detectives, looking through national archives and private collections to find these photos,” he said.

“Jerusalem is one of the most photographed cities in the world,” added Lev. “In this exhibition, you can see the everyday life of Jerusalemites a century ago from the perspective of a diverse group of photographers who came from different backgrounds and cultures.”

One of the photographers, Elia Kahvedjian, was born in Ourfa, Turkey to an Armenian family. He was able to escape the Armenian massacre and moved to Jerusalem in 1926, working there as a photographer for 64 years. His grandson and son now run his three-generation photography shop known as Photo Elia, which Elia opened in 1949 in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. Kahvedjian’s photos depict daily life in Jerusalem.

Through the historical research conducted by Lev and associate curator, Hamutal Wachtel, work of photographers who were both known and unknown were uncovered. “The essence of the photo exhibition are the photographers,” commented Eilat Lieber, the museum’s director. “We discovered amazing photographers including three women who worked in the field.”

Rivka Karp, who immigrated to Israel from Poland, is believed to be the first professional woman photographer to work in Jerusalem. She moved to the city in 1925 from Kibbutz Ein Harod and opened her own photographic studio on Ben Hillel Street, which became well-respected by the Jerusalem families that she photographed. Her photography career spanned about 45 years, during which she photographed individual and family portraits in her studio with marvelous attention to detail.

The exhibition also includes native photographers. Tsadok Bassan, believed to be the first Jewish photographer born in Jerusalem, offers a unique view of Jerusalem through his work capturing the pre-state Jewish community. Bassan, who was born in 1882 to a religious family of third-generation Jerusalemites, worked as a photographer in Jerusalem from approximately 1900 to 1950. Bassan’s photos show life of the the old Yishuv, capturing yeshivas, orphanages, cemeteries, and soup kitchens, as well as portraits of rabbis and cantors and their families.

The exhibition also features the work of Khalil Raad, who was probably the first Christian Arab to work in Jerusalem. He was born in Lebanon and worked in Jerusalem from 1890 to 1948, capturing Arab life in the city. In addition, the work of Ali Zaarour, who was most likely the first Muslim Arab to photograph in Jerusalem, is also on display, including his photograph of a Jordanian soldier next to the ruins of the Hurva synagogue in 1948.

Following up “The Camera Man” exhibition, the Tower of David Museum is also asking the public to contribute their own family photos that capture everyday life in the city, with descriptive details, which they plan to utilize for a modern day account of Jerusalem for the next century.

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Anav Silverman is a regular contributor to Tazpit News Agency.