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> Hanna Safieh 1910-1979, photographer
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Hanna Safieh 1910-1979, photographer
submitted by This Week In Palestine

Hanna Safieh was born in Jerusalem in 1910 to a Palestinian Arab family. Shortly after starting work as a photographer, Safieh found employment at the American Colony photography department. This department, one of the earliest photography establishments in Palestine, was founded in 1898 to meet the growing demand for pictures from the Holy Land. It was at the American Colony that Safieh met and assisted the Swedish photographer Eric Matson (1888-1977). Safieh worked with Matson, documenting the country, until the latter left Palestine in 1946.

Following Matson's departure, Safieh found work with the British government as a Public Information Officer. This work provided Safieh with ample opportunity to photograph the country and, in particular, Jerusalem.

Following the exit of the British from Palestine in 1948 and the ensuing war that followed the establishment of the State of Israel, Safieh found himself photographing his home and birthplace for its new rulers - the Jordanian government. His photographic experience and his documentary style of photography earned Safieh numerous commissions throughout the 1950s and 1960s, photographing the country, its people, and their customs.

Following the war of 1967, Jordan lost control of Jerusalem and the West Bank to the Israelis. Once again, Hanna Safieh found his home and his future in the hands of new masters. Fate, however, was to take a particularly painful turn for Safieh that would render the political upheaval at the time rather insignificant. In the aftermath of the war, Hanna Safieh returned to his studio to discover that all of his pre-1948 archives and all of his photographic equipment had been stolen. A small number of images survived the theft by virtue of their publication overseas in the National Geographic magazine, The Associated Press Services, The London News and the Readers Digest, but this was no consolation to Safieh. The theft adversely affected his morale and his health and he stopped taking photographs soon after.

Safieh's work is interesting because, while most local photographers at the time were producing studio portraits and photographing weddings and other social events, he was working on what could be called landscape and ethnographic photography. Of particular interest are the photographs he took in the aftermath of the massacre at the village of Deir Yassin at the hands of Jewish forces in April of 1948. The day following the massacre, and before the bodies of the victims were removed, Safieh went to Deir Yassin and captured the gruesome scene with his camera.

Hanna Safieh's archives are maintained and displayed by his son Raffi (also a photographer) at his gallery on Azzahra Street in Jerusalem.

For further information about the work of Hanna Safieh, you can contact Raffi Safieh by tel./fax at +972-2-6283546 or visit www.jerusalemphoto.com

This Week in Palestine
December 2001

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