Middle East Studies

Exhibition | Time Machine: Stereoscopic Views from Palestine, 1900

Friday, March 3 –
Friday, March 31, 2017

Pembroke Hall (Ground Floor Lobby)

Opening reception Friday, March 3, 2017 6:15 p.m.

Curators: Issam Nassar & Ariella Azoulay

One hundred stereoscopic images, taken by various photographers, invite viewers on a journey through Palestine. The collection was initiated and published by Underwood and Underwood around 1900 and was accompanied by the book Traveling in The Holy Land through the Stereoscope, written by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut. The journey begins with the traditional point of arrival in the country at Jaffa, followed by images of Biblical sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, the Jordan River, Nablus and other areas including places in modern day Lebanon and Syria. Captions on the back of the cards indicating the name of locations are supplemented with excerpts from Hurlbut’s book. Though the images are of Palestine and its people, they invoke Biblical narratives and ethnographic commentary far more than they describe the country as it appeared at the time. Palestine and its people appear in the 3 dimensional space of the stereoscopes only as reenactors of the biblical story. The gap between the viewer—in the privacy of her living room in turn-of-the-20th-century US or Europe—and the local population—as guardians of a cherished past—is further highlighted by captions such as: “The native mode of grinding coffee” or “This market, with its throng of robed and turbaned business men (Arabs, Jews and Turks), its meek donkeys and dignified camels, is just as Jeremiah and Isaiah and Amos used to know.” The images in the collection cannot be viewed today without the imprint of the destructive colonial impulse that rendered nonexistent much of what we see in them, and erected on its modern ruins, the state of Israel.

With this exhibit, the curators invite spectators to become “time travelers”: to enter into a time machine of sorts for a journey into the beloved country of Palestine, the country of the many who lived there, of those who dreamt of going there, and of the pilgrims, immigrants, colonialists, missionaries and tourists who did. The collection on display raises a set of fascinating questions about photography—distance and proximity, public and private viewing, reproducibility, and the photographer/the photographed—as well as political questions about colonialism, conquest, migration, rule, ownership, memory, legacy, patrimony, and preservation. The curators, in collaboration with thirty contributors, address some of these questions in a second layer of texts added to the images on display. Through the juxtaposition of original and revised captions, spectators are invited to look at these images from a dual perspective: on the one hand from the perspective of what could be seen in them at a time when the destruction of Palestine was unthinkable and, on the other hand, from the perspective of what can be seen in them today, several decades after the catastrophe that imposed on this place the paradigm of colonial condition and national conflict as the sole lens for imagining a future.