Coloured images  22 December 2008 until 22 February 2009

Palestine photographed by the American Colony Photographers, 1898-1931

Coloured images

In 1926 and 1931 the grain dealer Arie Speelman (1880-1964) and his wife Anne Christine Speelman-van Vliet (1886-1967) took two trips to Palestine. During these trips they visited the photo shop at the American Colony (a religious community of American Christians), where they bought more than a thousand lantern slides of the Holy Land. These images were literally and figuratively coloured; literally in that they were tinted by hand, and figuratively in that they present an image coloured by ideology. In a sense, they show a dreamland, in which the tensions between Palestinian Jews and Arabs are almost invisible.

This unique exhibition featured reproductions of fifty highlights from this collection, plus fifty more displayed in a slide show. They provided not only an impression of the Holy Land, but also a fascinating image of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Palestine: the city of Jerusalem, the country's diverse ethnic groups, urban scenes, and landscapes.

The exhibition marked the publication of the book In the Footsteps of Abraham: The Holy Land in Hand-Painted Photographs, written by Richard Hardiman and Helen Speelman, a granddaughter of Arie Speelman who lives in Israel. The book is available in bookshops

American Colony Potographers

These lantern slides are examples of a very special photographic technique. G. Eric Matson and Edith Yantiss (who later married) started working with the American Colony Photographers in their teenage years. It was there that they developed their signature technique of colouring slides for the projectors known as magic lanterns, using water paint and India ink. This involved printing the negative on a glass plate and then skilfully hand-tinting it, often with hair's-breadth precision. Finally, they placed a second plate of glass on top, creating a slide for use in a magic lantern. The Speelmans showed the lantern slides that they had bought from the American Colony Photographers at evangelical events called Palestine evenings.

The American Colony Photographers also hand-tinted photos taken by other people, such as the Speelmans. A few such photos, which the Speelmans took during their trips and at home, are included in this exhibition.

Palestine in the 19th and 20th century

Until the early nineteenth century, Palestine was a remote and dusty corner of the world where - except for a few pilgrims - there were almost no Western visitors. During the nineteenth century the size of the Jewish community grew rapidly; around 1800, the total population of 300,000 included only about 5,000 Jews, but by 1880, this figure had risen to 20,000-30,000. This trend continued because of the Russian pogroms in the late nineteenth century. In 1917, centuries of Ottoman rule came to an end. Palestine became a British mandate until 1947, when it was placed under the authority of the United Nations. A year later, in 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the state of Israel. 

Meanwhile, growing numbers of tourists had begun visiting the country, which for many people, like Arie Speelman and his wife, was above all the land of the Bible. These visitors usually had a religious motive: to follow in the footsteps of Abraham and Jesus.

Impression of the exhibition


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Selection of photographs

or see all American Colony photo's in JHM-collection