MIAMI (BP)–Middle Eastern scenes and landscapes of historical significance -– many which no longer exist –- will be seen anew thanks to a bequest of thousands of photos and slides to Biblical Illustrator.
Octogenarian Louise Kohl Smith has made 20 visits to the Middle East since the 1960s, taking cameras with her each time as she visited sites in Israel, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine -– including places that have been destroyed by war, vandalism or time and places now closed to tourists.
Biblical Illustrator is a quarterly biblical background magazine published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Though designed as a Sunday School supplement, the magazine can stand alone, offering photographs and articles on biblical archaeology.
Now, photographically, Smith and Biblical Illustrator share common ground.
Smith, who lives in the Miami area, grew up as the adopted daughter of a wealthy businessman and his wife. She lived on a lavish New Jersey estate, with a New York Fifth Avenue apartment and a winter home in Palm Beach, Fla. But, in spite of the affluence, she didn’t travel outside the country until the 1960s when her mother offered to pay for a trip anywhere her daughter wanted to go.
“I immediately ran to the travel office and found the longest and most expensive trip to the Holy Land I could get,” Smith recalled with a laugh. “I thought I might never get another chance like that.”
Smith said when she arrived in Israel, “I sat out on my little three-by-five-foot balcony and just took it all in -– the sights, the sounds and the smells. Even though I’d never been there before, I just knew this was my favorite place in the world.”
Smith used her photography skills to capture images across the region. “I always tried to photograph sites that had meaning to me, places I knew from the Bible. I wanted to get more than just what postcards showed.”
And she did. While postcards show panoramas, Smith’s photographs show details of sites. At a garden gate, for example, she might photograph the whole gate but also zoom in on a particular section, showing details of the exquisite hand-wrought metal.
Each of Smith’s 20 trips added to the collection.
But a collection of such size brings the inevitable question of what to do with it.
As Smith began thinking about the distribution of her assets, she was especially concerned about what to do with her images.
She determined Biblical Illustrator would be the recipient. “I had enjoyed the magazine for years,” she said. “I appreciated the quality and the scholarly nature of it. I decided to leave my collection to LifeWay and the magazine in my will.”
G.B. Howell, editor of Biblical Illustrator, said when Smith contacted him about the bequest to the magazine, he was not sure what to expect.
“While we are always appreciative when someone wants to send us photographs and slides … we have to think about the quality of what we will get, as well as if the donation will meet needs we have,” he said. “With our limited storage space, it becomes a question of stewardship.”
When he began looking at the images Smith was offering, however, Howell was impressed. “The photographic quality jumped out first,” he said. “It was excellent.”
Then, the locations she had photographed came into focus.
“When I started looking at the specific photographs, I was amazed,” Howell said. “Some of the places she had been and had photographed no longer exist,” Howell said. “Not only has the violence that area of the world experienced had an impact on some of the ancient biblical sites, but the ravages of time and nature have taken a toll on the land.
“Iraq and Iran aren’t open to us any longer. We can’t go in and take pictures of the still-existing ancient sites there. This makes many of her images priceless to us.”
Also, Smith was meticulous in cataloging and organizing the images. “It was obvious this was her life’s work,” Howell said.
Smith said she feels good about leaving her photographic legacy to LifeWay and Biblical Illustrator. “I know they will use the images wisely and to the glory of God. I’m happy knowing that through my photographs, other Christians will get to see the majesty of God’s Holy Land.”
For more information about Biblical Illustrator, go to www.lifeway.com or phone 1-800-458-2772.