Re-materializing Digital Collections: An Exhibition of American Colony Photographs and Historical Revisionism in Beersheba, 2011-2013
Emilie Le Febvre
(University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
This paper discusses the re-materialization of digitized images from the American Colony's Photography Department and the pursuit of historical capital in southern Israel.
Paper long abstract:
This paper examines the material transposition of recently digitized photographs from the American Colony's Photography Department (1898-1950) and their exhibition (2011-2013) by the Beersheba municipality inside the city's Grand Mosque - a building at the centre of tensions between the region's Bedouin and Jewish residents. A local visual historian curated the exhibition. It depicted the 20th century history of Beersheba through a series of images copied from several archives, including The Matson Photographic Collection held at the Library of Congress. While the venue was controversial, particularly for Bedouin residents, the curator also rewrote the images' original captions and replaced them with descriptions that minimised the city's Islamic and Bedouin histories. While this case study highlights the commonplace historical revisionisms occurring in the Palestinian-Israeli context, it also demonstrates that practices of re-materialization further enable these re-contextualizations, particularly when historical documents such as archival photographs are copied and disconnected from their original sources. As such, this paper aims to further explore: Why do curators re-materialize digitized archival photographs? Who controls these dislocated images, their exhibition, and the historical information attached to them? I argue these questions are central to understanding the role of re-materialization for creating alternative forms of historical evidence in the Middle East.
Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization