All but one of the photos of the 1915 locust plague illustrating the accompanying article were taken by G. Eric Matson (1888–1977), one of the foremost documentary photographers of his time. Matson’s archive comprises some 20,000 original photos spanning the period from 1898 to 1946. Of that number, about 5,000 depict Palestine and the Middle East. Matson focused his lens on both the high and the humble—on Lawrence of Arabia as well as on Bedouin engaged in games. His photographs are superb art and an invaluable historical archive preserving sights from a vanished world—herds of buffalo and camels in the Ayalon Valley; Jerusalem when it was a small, sleepy town; archaeological sites before excavation.
Born in Sweden, Matson emigrated with his parents to Jerusalem in 1896. There they Joined a commune group known as the American Colony, which was dedicated to living simple Christian lives by helping the sick and needy. As a teenager, Matson went to work for the American Colony Photo Department, which became the Matson Photo Service when he took it over in 1934. Matson took most of his photos using glass negatives, which have no grain; thus they can be greatly enlarged without a grainy appearance.
When tourists visited Matson’s Jerusalem shop, they could make their selection of souvenir photos from 11 albums containing his Middle Eastern photos. This collection, photographed from the original album pages, was published in four volumes, The Middle East in Pictures (Arno, 1980). The pictures in these reference volumes, while not themselves high-quality photo reproductions, provide easy access to Matson’s thousands of well-identified images. Anyone interested in obtaining a high-quality glossy print of one of Matson’s photos may order it from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to which Matson donated his entire archive of negatives in 1966. The library photo service charges $7 per print, plus $4.50 postage for orders under $50.—Ed.