Palestine from Cairo series: Photo Kegham of Gaza

Amira Noshokaty , Wednesday 1 May 2024

This week the French Cultural Institute in Cairo has dedicated two days to highlight the arts and culture of Palestine in an air of peace and fraternity under the title: Here’s Palestine programme.

one of the photos of the exhibition of late Armenian Photographer Kegham Djeghalian (1915-1981) the
One of the photos of the exhibition of the late Armenian Photographer Kegham Djeghalian (1915-1981) - the photographer of Gaza.


The programme offered a variety of cultural and artistic layers and capabilities of Palestinian artists, including storytelling, photo exhibitions, and many more.

The black and white photo exhibition “Photo Kegham of Gaza: Unboxing” was among the most outstanding parts, attributed to Armenian photographer Kegham Djeghalian (1915-1981).

Djeghalian survived the 1915 Armenian genocide, moved to Palestine, got married, lived all his life there, and established “Photo Kegham,” Gaza’s first photography studio in 1944.

Curated by art director, visual artist, and fashion stylist Kegham Djeghalian, the photographer’s grandson and namesake, this is not the first time the exhibition has run in Cairo. 

The first time was in 2021 when Kegham came across the three boxes full of negatives, which inspired him, so he put them on the central display of his exhibition. 

The first display had four themes: the first two attempted to map out Kegham’s professional practice and socio-political engagement; the third was a close-up of the personal and family album of the photographer; and the fourth was dedicated to Kegham’s key photos.

The current display of the exhibition has additional photos, with a main theme of reconnecting with the intangible cultural heritage of Gaza and re-writing a collective visual and oral historiography that safeguards the oral and visual narratives of the city for generations to come. 

“So, 2021 was that first encounter with the three boxes. I did not have any time to digest all of that, and it was a very literal and sincere confrontation. I called it a naive work in progress. This time I took out naïve because we should look at these images of Gaza with an alternative historiography," he told Ahram Online (AO), highlighting the fact that being amid genocide with active cleansing makes it an essential urgent need to reconnect with such old photo documentation and build on it.

‘Abu Bishara’: Armenian photographer who became ‘The Mokhtar of Gaza’

"My grandfather obsessively documented Gaza, as an owner of a photography studio in Gaza. It is not a given that you go out of the studio and document things in a photojournalistic language. Although he never worked for media, press, or any agency, so much of his photographs are documentary for journalists and war photography approach, borrowing the vocabulary instinctively of course, of war photographers and political documentaries,” he noted.  

He was an Armenian with an accent and did not write Arabic, but he was called by Gazans “Abu Bishara,” which means good news in Arabic.

They took him into their homes, making him “The Mohktar,” the wise man or the sage of the town whom you ask to settle disputes, Djeghalian told AO.

He photographed weddings, joy, sadness, summertime, iconic figures, trivial times, and everything as if he were safeguarding Gaza’s memories of all kinds and forms.

“How they trusted him! I was told that it seems that Kegham adopted Gaza and Gaza adopted him. He also saw in Palestine something else, himself as a displaced individual among many. They identified with this displacement and the loss of one’s origins and land, and that’s almost the back story of what Kegham, the Palestinians, and the Gazans had to live with and go on in life,” he explained.

The back story

The gatekeeper of Gaza’s photography survived the Armenian genocide as a toddler with his mother who died shortly after; so he grew up in the famous Armenian orphanage in Lebanon called The Bird’s Nest.  

He eventually moved to Palestine in the early 1930s, which was under the British Mandate at the time.

He roamed between Jerusalem and Jaffa, where he learned photography. “And that’s when he discovered Gaza, the beautiful Mediterranean city that doesn’t have its photo studio, so probably he found a business opportunity and so got married to my grandma, who is also Armenian, who lived in Jaffa, and in 1944, he opened photo Kegham, the first photo studio in Gaza,” he said.

Gaza’s refugee camps since 1948!

“In 1948, 75 percent of the primary population of Gaza was refugees. Deir El-Balah and Khan Younis were originally refugee camps, established in 1948, for the displaced people of Palestine. So imagine all this now; they are re-displaced. You will find photos of when it had tents, then concrete buildings, and then bigger buildings. He documented even the evolution of the camps,” he added.

 He also explained that, in 1948, he photographed the refugees coming into Gaza, taken on trucks, and in 1956, he went to the borders and photographed the first Israeli soldier to come into Gaza.

The self-sacrificing Gazan photographer 

“Three days before the exhibition, I went into a series of interviews with Gazan people who knew my grandfather, and there was this guy who was based in London. From him, I found out that in 1967, my grandfather activated a network of Armenian photographers throughout Palestine and they occupied Palestine, documenting the Israeli army movement and operation and he would get the negatives, into Gaza, smuggle it out to the Egyptian Military Intelligence,” he said.

“This man I was talking to was one of the men who at the age of 16 took these negatives to Egypt. I added the story to the exhibition; you will find it on the account of the sound installation,” he added.

“My grandfather was known as Al-Mosawer Al-Gazawy Al-Fidaay (the self-sacrificing, Gazzawi photographer and commando).

Crowdsourcing oral and visual memories of Gaza

“Gaza is not only destruction and we cannot do much as civilians, educated cultural artists, and whatever we are; all that we can do is to hold on to our memory, our subjective histories. So for the past few months, I started this project trying to activate the network of Gazzawia all over the world, those who were displaced 67 or beyond now, and try to find whoever kept Kegham’s photo portraits of their families and their friends,” he added.

“I want to get all those accounts and documentation of these photos that they would send me in full agency along with their accounts and the contexts of the photos as I did with the few I have received before the exhibition. I put them on exhibition, featuring the people I met randomly on social media and their endearing greetings of their mothers or grandmothers to my family,” he continued.

Ezwa initiative

The opening of the exhibition came two days after the commemoration of the Armenian genocide on 24 April.

On the opening day, a bus from the Armenian club in Heliopolis arrived with all the Armenians who came and I felt the ezwa (we stand with each other), and together with the Palestinian group, we started the Ezwa initiative.

Ezwa initiative aims to connect and support Palestinian artists, designers, architects, and intellects who just came to Cairo and help them settle in the big city.

Together with their fellow professors and colleagues, they plan to create a network of scholars and a panel of university professors who can evaluate and contact universities to help certify the young Palestinians who are about to finish their masters or BAs to get a degree.   

Short link: