May 29, 2014 - 15:24 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Elia Kahvedjian's photographs are stunning examples of the history that resides in the walls of Jerusalem - a history that transcends barriers of race, ethnicity, religion and time. A new exhibition at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco that will run through June 21 reveals some of the works of Kahvedjian, an Armenian refugee who lived in Israel in the early 20th century and is easily one of the region's most influential photographers, SFGate reports.
Many of the black-and-white photographs paint a vivid picture of pre-state Israel, transporting viewers from Christian to Muslim quarters, Damascus Gate to the Sea of Galilee, shoe shiners to dancing Gypsies, communal celebrations to moments of quiet prayer and reverence.
"There are lots of photos of people, seemingly unobserved, working at their jobs," says Lenore Naxon, a curator at the JCCSF. "They form a remarkable record of the time and place, a real step back in time."
When Kahvedjian's son and grandson discovered thousands of negatives in his Jerusalem shop in 1987, they realized that Kahvedjian had amassed not only his own photos, but 1,400 images by other photographers that dated from 1840 to 1947 - some of which are included in the exhibition - which were immediately recognized as treasures offering us a fuller picture of Kahvedjian's life, as well as pre-Israel Jerusalem. His Jerusalem shop, Elia Photo Services, is still in existence as a museum.
Kahvedjian's granddaughter Laura Dirtadian says that the exhibition captures aspects of Israel that few people see nowadays. After the opening of the show, "There were people coming up to me who were crying, because of the environment which was portrayed in these photographs. You see Palestinians and Israelis and Armenians, and they are living among one another in peace."
The photographs in the collection, especially the ones Kahvedjian collected from earlier times, are also particularly poignant, given that many reveal sites that no longer in exist, SFGate says.
Kahvedjian himself lived through great turmoil. Although details about his life remain fuzzy, he is thought to have been born in eastern Turkey around 1910. In 1915, his entire family was killed during the Armenian Genocide. He spent a few years on the streets in Turkey, but with the assistance of an American aid organization, eventually moved to an orphanage in Nazareth. After an apprenticeship with a photographer, he relocated to Jerusalem to open a photo shop. He died in 1999.
When Kahvedjian turned to photography, the majority of his work comprised family portraits and wedding photos. However, Dirtadian says, her grandfather had a deep appreciation for art, and much of his attention was focused on stolen moments of beauty.
"He gravitated toward everyday life and routine, to scenes of serenity and peace," she says.
Although Dirtadian only saw her grandfather twice, his story has always been a part of her.
"His photographs remind us of our past," she said, "of our ability to live and work with and among one another in harmony and appreciation."