Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Imaging the Holy Land

A couple of friends are soon to visit the Holy Land, talking about it with them gave me the urge to re-visit the photos I took in Jerusalem and the West Bank during my ten week sabbatical there at the end of 2000. This drove me further to dig out my photo digitising scanner, and start transferring them to my computer. It's a little while since I've done any work on extending my digital archive of old photos, and what struck me was that even the best and cleanest of well stored negatives didn't produce as fine a quality (as opposed to size of ) image as a newer digital camera. The scanner can only reproduce what's on the surface of the film. Maybe it's better with highest quality negative, but it just made me realise what a powerful tool has been placed into ordinary peoples' hands by modern digital photography. Content of pictures and camera skill is as it ever was a matter for an individual to work at. It's easy to take high quality looking rubbish photos.

Anyway, it was a good experience to go through the 105 pictures I took and to recall places I'd visited and people I'd met. 105 photos in ten weeks, as opposed to the 300+ I'll take inside a week when travelling these days. Three rolls of film and development costs, that was what I could afford on sabbatical in 2000, I had to select my shots sparingly. I have more vivid images of Jerusalem in my head than I do on film.

Some of them, it might not have been prudent to take - soldiers shoving and kicking Palestinian peasant women out of the way as they passed on patrol through crowded street sellers in the holy city. The shopkeeper in West Jerusalem with a pistol in his waistband. Men with locks in civvies with rifles over their shoulders, queuing for buses.... the defiant image of a palm print on a wall of the via Dolorosa, made in the blood of a youngster who had been slain nearby - it gave the Red Hand of Ulster a significance I'd not thought of before.

I'd love to return there now. Three years of profligate digital snapping the transformation of the city centre has strengthened my confidence in looking and capturing a moment, knowing that deleting failures, and cropping badly framed stuff can help shape a collection of images that tell a greater story. My West Bank landscape pictures are not up to much. The Old City pictures are much better, except that there aren't enough of them to represent the daily visual feast I remember having. It makes me wonder - did I lose a roll of film or something? I must check back on my paper journal. 2000 was pre-blogging days. I keep on thinking, I must have taken more than this. But the experience was just so vivid, it lives with me still. I had little trouble recalling and putting captions on all the photos I worked with.

I've posted them on Google's Picasa site

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