Raya Manaa is a Palestinian photographer based between Istanbul and Palestine. She grew up in a Palestinian village in upper Galilee called Majd Al-Kurum. One of the oldest olive trees in Palestine grows in this village. It is around 4,000-5,000 years old, Raya tells It’s Nice That. Thus “Majd Al-Kurum” translates as “Glory of the Grove”. The wistful way Raya recalls the village of her childhood continues as she begins to tell us the story of her father’s photo archive.
Raya’s father, Mahmoud Manaa, opened Photo Studio Al-Ameen in the early 60s, making him the first photographer in Galilee to have his own studio. Mahmoud is a self-taught photographer. He began his practice by documenting the work of the communist party in Beir El-Sabia’ (southern Palestine), continuing to develop his style through street photography. Mahmoud finally settled down as a wedding photographer in the 60s and in the next 30 years he documented “over 2,500 weddings and engagement parties, and hundreds of family portraits,” Raya tells us. Mahmoud “was a good photographer but not a good business owner,” she continues. Many of his clients would dodge paying his fees and never pick up their photographs. While this led to the studio’s eventual bankruptcy in the 90s, it has also contributed to the overall richness of the photo collection which Raya has now begun to archive.
Organising Mahmoud’s visual legacy has been, in many respects, a bewildering experience for Raya. At the time she discovered around 10,000 negatives and prints in the basement of her family home, her father was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s. Lamentably, Mahmoud “recalls nothing regarding the period he used to work as a photographer,” Raya tells us. So compiling the enormous collection of images that are seldom annotated with dates or captions has provided Raya with a particularly arduous task.