In 2008, the artist and tutorial Kegham Djeghalian discovered three small purple packing containers that his father had left in a closet in his condominium in Cairo. Each field contained, with no obvious logic, a set of various negatives from the 1940s up till the 1970s. The photographs have been taken by his grandfather — additionally known as Kegham Djeghalian — whom he had grown up listening to tales about on how he was crucial photographer within the Gaza Strip, however with out by no means really seeing his work. Djeghalian determined to take the 1,100 negatives to Paris, the place he lives, and began to scan and course of them.
Last March, after greater than a decade partaking in archival analysis, Djeghalian curated an exhibition addressing the legacy of his grandfather, the primary skilled photographer in Gaza. His intention was to discover the visible historical past of the Gaza Strip. The exhibition passed off throughout Cairo Photo Week, a pictures competition held in downtown Cairo.
“This project has been haunting me for almost 12 years. I took two steps and then took 10 back,” Djeghalian instructed Al-Monitor. “What got me interested is to study Kegham without engaging in [proper] archival work — because there is no archive, there is a legacy,” he stated.
A younger survivor of the 1915 Armenian genocide, Kegham grew up throughout totally different cities of the Levant and moved to Palestine when he got here of age. There he labored in plenty of jobs earlier than he obtained married in Jaffa and determined to settle along with his spouse in Gaza, the place he based its first pictures studio — Photo Kegham — in 1944. The studio, Djeghalian famous through the exhibition, advanced right into a key establishment in Gazan society, as Kegham turned broadly thought to be the godfather of pictures there. He inscribed the photographic historical past of Gaza for almost 4 many years. Kegham handed away in 1981.
“The importance of my grandfather — beyond being the first photographer in Gaza and [its] main documenter — [is that] he was trusted by its people. … They let him in their homes, weddings, funerals. He became the emblem of a photographer in a city,” Djeghalian stated. “Gaza is very closed. You don’t have many foreigners. It is not like Jerusalem, a crossroad of all kinds of travelers and residents. And so, for an Armenian to come and be accepted so deeply and so genuinely … that is quite a testimony.”
“And what’s interesting about the time period is that he was there pre-1948. There was no Israel. We are talking about Gaza under the British Mandate. [He witnessed] Gaza in 1948, the Nakba and war. Then Israel was established, and Gaza came under Egyptian rule. In 1956 there was the invasion of Gaza by Israel, just for six months. This was very much documented. Then, under Egypt. And then Gaza was occupied in 1967,” he stated. “These are the most critical points in the modern history of Gaza, and he was there all along.”
The 1,100 negatives that Djeghalian discovered within the packing containers in Cairo primarily included photographs from the 1950s and 1960s, some from the 1940s and solely only a few from the 1970s. At the start, he approached them as a really formal archival work, unboxing the negatives, scanning, indexing and relationship them, and analyzing and grouping the fabric. But he quickly obtained overwhelmed by the concept of curating a small household archive.
From then on, Djeghalian defined, he opted to have interaction in a uncooked confrontation with the images, in a “disruptive” studying that he believes generates an ambiguity that preserves the affective and the nostalgic and, on the similar time, acknowledges the disrupted narratives and contexts that surrounded Kegham and his photographs. He additionally determined to not restore the negatives with a view to hold a decay that he considers “beautiful and poetic.”
“A survival of the Armenian genocide, [Kegham went from the] disruption of an Armenian continuity into the disruption of Palestine. Disruption of Gaza. Disruption of the archive. And disruption of the photographic materials, as the negatives are decaying,” Djeghalian stated. “Ambiguity gives some sense of revelation to [his] work and could risk being unsettling, and that sentiment is constructive. It is in a way constructive, yet disruptive,” he added.
Reaching Kegham’s archive in Gaza, Djeghalian said, proved to be impossible. He explained that, when Kegham died, his family offered his studio to his apprentice, Maurice, who preserved the legacy until he, too, passed away. Maurice’s brother, who had nothing to do with photography, took over the studio, which he never continued, and the archive, which he has totally monopolized and neglected ever since, according to Djeghalian.
At the exhibition in Cairo, Kegham’s work was divided into four themes. The first two focused on his professional practice and his socio-political engagement, first by revealing his studio practice and then mapping the practice of a photo documenter in Gaza, which includes landscapes, weddings, parties, the presence of Egyptian rulers, schools and refugee camps. The third one was dedicated to the family album, which Djeghalian said also serves as a kind of socio-geographic reading of Gaza at the time. The last one displayed some of Kegham’s key photographs through a Zoom call between Djeghalian, in Cairo, and the current owner of most of Kegham’s archive, in Gaza.
Alia Rady, the exhibition’s assistant curator, told Al-Monitor, “The Gaza Strip was not documented like other places in Palestine. Kegham was the first and only photographer in Gaza for a while, and his archive is, by far, the largest we have to date. I think this archive is [a] narration of a place that does not exist in the same way it did. It is a documentation of places and people that mostly do not exist anymore, and it is a visual to the stories we hear about the Gaza that we never saw.”
She added, “Kegham’s archive encompassed all aspects of Gaza: studio headshots, daily life, road trips, beach trips, picnics, landscapes, political and military figures, refugee camps. Whatever happened in Gaza, Kegham captured it.”
Djeghalian concluded, “This is visible historical past of a [place] that’s underdocumented, and thus problematic. It is a historical past of a contested nation, very disruptive, problematic and contested. In Egypt, there’s a notion of Gaza that’s constructed by what we’re getting from information, visuals, tales. It turned this black spot within the Middle East and within the Palestinian territories. What was wonderful is that most individuals who visited the exhibition have been unsettled by this confrontation with the historical past of a [place] that’s so badly constructed, at the very least of their creativeness.”