Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Matson Photo Service: Palestine

G. Eric Matson (1888-1977) came to the American Colony as a young child, arriving from Sweden with his family in 1896. He began working in the Photo Department darkroom as a teenager in the early 1900s, although it is uncertain when he actually began shooting pictures. Matson married an American, Edith Yantiss (1889-1966), who also worked in the darkroom. The marriage helped to ally him with the American contingent of the Colony, which had strong leaders in Anna Spafford and, later, her daughter, Bertha Vester.
Together the Matsons excelled in innovative techniques, such as coloring photographs with oil paint, producing double stereoscopic photographs to create 3-D pictures, infrared photography, and aerial work.
Renaming the American Colony photography operation "The Matson Photo Service," the Matsons continued the business in Jerusalem until shortly after the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. The primary employees of the photo service were John Whiting and two Palestinians, Hanna Safieh (1910-1979) and Joseph H. Giries, who had begun as apprentices.
The Photo Service's clientele expanded to include more newspaper, book, and magazine publishers in Jerusalem and around the world. The Matsons added a wider range of offerings, including color slides. They also obtained photographs from other photographers for resale.
In 1946, in the face of increasing violence in Palestine, the Matsons left Jerusalem for Southern California. The staff shipped the bulk of the negatives to the United States, while the Jerusalem business also continued to operate. The Jerusalem store and offices sustained heavy damage during the conflicts of 1948-1949, but the remaining negative stock was safely relocated to another area of Jerusalem.
By the early 1950s, with tourism on the decline, the Photo Service's staff dispersed, forcing the closing of the Jerusalem operation. The Matsons continued to sell photographs from California.
Realizing the Collection's historic value, Eric Matson approached the Library of Congress around 1964 with the intention of donating it. Some 13,000 negatives and eleven albums of contact prints came to the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in 1966. In 1970, the Library arranged to ship to Washington, D.C., a final group of negatives, which had been stored in the YMCA basement in Jerusalem and had sustained water damage. In 1971, Matson helped Library of Congress staff to organize and identify the photographs. The Home for the Aged of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Los Angeles, where the Matsons had been living, gave the Collection to the Library in 1978. In 1981, the Home donated an additional 122 aerial views of Palestine
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1 comment:

  1. I have some old photos which had been sent to our family here in Shillong,Meghalaya,India when a grand uncle of mine was in the last war and posted in then Palestine.The photos have,on the reverse. 'matson Photo Service,Jerusalem,Palestine'I wonder if anyone would be interested in them.Photos were of buildings,people,some in Egypt etc