May 19th, 2010
08:00 AM ET

Jerusalem Journal: Church of the Holy Sepulchre's photographer

[cnn-video url=http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2010/05/17/nat.jerusalem.church.photographer.cnn]

Israeli photographer Garo Nalbandian has spent 50 years navigating his country's complex religious landscape, taking pictures of holy sites of the 3 monolithic religions. His specialty: shooting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

CNN photojournalist Michael Schwartz followed Nalbandian last month as Nalbandian shot the church's holy fire ritual, celebrated by Orthodox Christians on the day before Orthodox Easter, and captured the day in video and print:

Garo Nalbandian's luck held out. The Israeli policeman recognized him and waved him past the crowd barrier into the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The ladder laden, camera burdened photographer moved his curly crop of silver hair into pole position next to the door huge oak door which protected one of Christianities holiest places.

Camera men jostled to shoot the Muslim key keeper open the door to the Shrine. Forty years of experience deemed the shot irrelevant and Nalbandian moved quickly in the direction of Jesus' tomb.

From his vantage point he got the best view of the Holy fire as it snaked its way out of the tomb and spread through huge hall by thousands of candles.

The man, recognized by all denominations as the official Church photographer, arrived early. He had several hours to reacquaint himself with the dignitaries controlling the event .

Nalbandian watched journalists crowd into the closed gallery. How many of these cameramen really knew how to develop a film or dismantle a camera? Could any spell the name of Dag Hammarskjold, the UN secretary General whose arrival he covered on his first assignment all those years ago.

On that day in 1958, he travelled to the Qalandia airport just outside Jerusalem. The esteemed diplomat walked over to the 15-year-old Nalbandian and asked him whether such a young boy could take his picture. Nalbandian told him to check the newspaper the following day. 8 of the 12 pictures he took were published.

Today's reality was the holy fire ritual, celebrated the day before the Orthodox Easter.

For Nalbandian, the light symbolized striving: moving forward in every aspect of life. "When I'm taking pictures I have respect for every religion," says Nalbandian, a Christian. "You have to become a believer a little bit - it doesn't matter what religion."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Culture & Science • Israel

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Sean

    The caption is incorrect. It should read "where some Christians say he WAS buried." He is risen.

    June 9, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  2. Frances Van Sant

    Did these Editors mean monotheistic?

    I like monolithic, though. Stonehenge is a monument to that Real old-time religion.

    The druid of boot hill

    May 20, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  3. coco


    May 19, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.