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Jerusalem in the Heart Two Urban Artists in Exile | Kamal Boullata | Jerusalem Quarterly Journal


Eight years after Israel's annexation of Jerusalem, Steve Sabella was born. Though he continues to live within the Old City, one wonders why none of the photographs he submitted to the Ramallah exhibition portrayed his city of birth. Perhaps an explanation rests on the peculiar relationship that evolved over a century between Sabella's language of expression and the significance of his hometown to the outside world. Photography was only four years old when Jerusalem became one of the first cities outside Europe for Western photographers to rush to capture. Arab photographers born in the city, on the other hand, maintained creative interests elsewhere. Khalil Ra'ad, the earliest native-born professional (his studio was established in 1890), is an illustrious example.5 Before him, most Western photographers recording features of his hometown focussed on its biblical sites and its historical and architectural monuments. Native figures appearing in those landscapes usually served as little more than a measure of scale. In contrast, Ra'ad's Jerusalem photographs mainly focussed on the life of people in and outside his city of birth. Unlike the outsiders' images of local people that either sought to stage biblical scenes or document ethnic and folkloric customs,
Ra'ad's photographs captured daily life in all its throb and vigour, regardless of ethnic or religious references. They are photographs of common men and women enjoying leisure time or busy at work. We see local inhabitants basking in the sun, craftspeople before their wheels, factory workers lining up Nablus soap bars, villagers pruning their olive trees and farmers cultivating their fields. Today, Ra'ad's devout concentration on his people may be better understood by recalling that his photographs were shot at a time when Reinhold Niebuhr's slogan "land without a people for a people without a land" was a myth gaining currency in a world defined by colonialism.


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