How to Photograph in the Land of Israel

How to Photograph in the Land of Israel? is the title of a chapter in the first Zionist guidebook to Palestine, published in 1937. My project goes back to early Zionist geographers and photographers to offer an alternative history of local photography - one that is made up of images that illustrate school books, travel guides, and geography lectures.

The ‘Knowledge of the Land’ (yedi’at ha’aretz) is a unique academic discipline for Israel, combining Geography, History, Archaeology, and Biblical Studies, with a bit of folklore and mythology. Most important within its mythologies is the way to acquire that knowledge – “through the feet” - by actively walking the land, an action that often leads to settlement and land grabbing. The discipline was developed by early 20th-century tour guides, who instructed their groups with the help of the Bible, creating a new Sacred Geography. The project focuses on Ze’ev Vilnai, the archetypal Zionist guide, who traveled around the country by himself, presenting images and lecturing using a Magic Lantern.

Photography played a significant part in the formation of the Zionist excursion, as it quickly became a disguise for the collection of military intelligence about the indigenous population of Palestine. The short answer to the question raised by the chapter’s title was - as informative and contextualized as possible. In the early 1940s, Zionist paramilitary members began initiating guided tours to strategic places, collecting images, drawings, and written descriptions in enormous files. Traveling became embedded within Israeli Militaristic culture, to this day. The project goes back to the inception of these cultural foundations to suggest that militarism and colonialism are embedded within photographic education and contemporary Israeli Photography.

The project is presented as the Cabinet of Curiosities of the Zionist excursion, introducing new compositions for existing materials that are a product of the two tools I examine - the excursion, and photography. My Cabinet of Curiosities does not ask to create any new knowledge, but to decipher an existing one - what is it that we know - when we 'know' the land?