Tag Archives: Archaeology

The adventurous and tragic life of Jacob Granat

We just found in Paris around twenty nice Mexican photographs, mostly tipos and views
of the City of Mexico, titled and signed « J. Granat » – a name unknown to us. We quickly discovered that these photographs were widely produced as offset post card – but the
original photographic prints are rare. Included in the lot of prints was an unsigned street
view of calle San Francisco in Mexico City, with a Granat shop in the foreground, its likely
owner in the doorway. As good a clue as it gets.

Jacob Granat was born in 1871 in Lemberg (today Lviv), a city in Western Ukraine, at the
time part of the Austrian empire. In 1900, at the invitation of his uncle Jacob Kalt, he
moved to Veracruz in Mexico, and a year later in Mexico City. We know that he had an uncle
or a cousin working at the casa Boker, one of the most successful German owned business
in Mexico. Interestingly, Guillermo Kahlo worked at casa Boker during the last years of
the 19th century, and probably took his first photographs during the construction of the
new Boker shop in 1898-1899.

We also know that Jacob Granat became rapidly the « curio king » of the capital, selling luggages, post cards and other souvenirs from his shop in calle San Francisco, in the
Historical center. But the bulk of the business was apparently luggages, and we are
inclined to think that Jacob Granat was not the photographer, but the distributor of
these images, either in photographic prints or in post cards.

Guillermo Kahlo and Jacob Granat were born the same year (1871), were both German
speaking and both had strong connections with the Boker family. It is therefore almost
certain that they knew each other. It is tempting to speculate that when Granat opened
his « curio shop » he asked Kahlo for some tipos photographs. We will need further
research to validate this hypothesis.

Jacob Granat credits

Tipos Mexicanos

Calendario Azteca

Evangelista, Mexico

Tortillera, Mexico

Su Chata


Los Consentidos de la casa

Ruinas de Mitla

Indias Amatecas

In 1906, Jacob Granat sold his shop to purchase the old Borda palace, where he opened
the first movie theater of the city, the famous Salon Rojo. Salon Rojo rapidly became the
most luxurious and successful theater in the city, and a center of night life for Mexico rich
and famous. It attracted politicians, notably Francisco Madero, who used to hold political meetings in Salon Rojo, and became a friend for Granat. In 1911, Madero was elected
president, and did probably reward Granat for his support.

In June 1912, Jacob Granat was one of the founder and the first president of Alianza Beneficencia Monte Sinai, the first Jewish charitable organization in Mexico.

in the mid 1920’s, Granat sold the salon Rojo and moved back to Europe, settling in Austria.
The reason of this exile are unknown. Some of Granat descendants speculate that he could
not deal with the grief from his friend Madero’s assassination.

Little is know of Jacob’s whereabout in Austria. Some of his relatives still living in Mexico
wrote recently that he tried to move back to Mexico after the Nazi invasion of Austria,
but could not, or was not allowed, to travel.

Jacob Granat was murdered by the Nazi regime at Auschwitz in 1943.

So let’s go back to the photograph of the Granat shop, and zoom in : here is the moving
image of a man I like to think is Jacob, the « curio king » in the doorway of his shop,
his face sadly in the shade of his straw boater.

Jacob Granat, Calle San Francisco, circa 1903







Ruins in Tonalá and Mitla, Mexico, circa 1900.


Tonala. Carved, granite boulder. Ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Tonala. Carved, granite boulder. Ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Last year we found these photographs of Mexican ruins. They are quite beautiful gelatin silver prints, on a semi-mat paper. Along with the captions taped on the back of each image there was a name: Nugent M. Clougher.

Who was he? What was he doing in Mexico? When were these photographs taken?

Pyramidal Formation. Ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Pyramidal Formation. Ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

At first we had accredited the images to him, and even though we didn’t know who he was, it seemed evident he was the photographer. His name was right there.

That’s when a little research can change everything we thought we knew. A few months later we found a chapter written by him in the review, The wonders of the world : a popular and authentic account of the marvels of nature and of man as they exist to-day, published in (1911). The chapter on North America shows a mix of photographs of Mount Peléz in Martinique, the Great Fountain Geyser in Yellowstone Park, the Caves of Bellamar in Cuba, and different ruins in Mexico amongst other things. Clougher was a writer, not a photographer.

We believe the photographs we are showing you here have never been published before. It seems they were outtakes of the story and did not make it to the final layout of the book.

Based on the credit line on the publication we were able to trace back the images to the National Railway of Mexico.

It is known that photographers such as C.B. Waite, Winfield Scott, Abel Briquet and William Henry Jackson were contracted by the Mexican Central Railway to document the railway system in Mexico in the late XIX century in order to inform potential investors and tourists about the accessibility of a strange and different land, to record the victory of technology over a seemingly obdurate nature, and to celebrate “an American colonial power that would move to center stage in a few years”.

However, we don’t have any evidence pointing towards any of them being the creators of the photographs we’re showing you. We’ve yet to find out who the photographer was, so as of now the images are archived as anonymous.

For the moment we will leave you with this question: which other photographers were commissioned by the National Railway of Mexico? Especially those shooting around the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.

For years the Mexican railroad companies produced an extensive amount of visual materials for a variety of pamphlets, brochures, timetables and guidebooks; these could be everywhere and anywhere, the challenge will be finding the right author.

Tonala, Mexico.

Tonala, Mexico.

Pyramidal formation, ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Pyramidal formation, ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Carved granite boulder ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Carved granite boulder ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Pyramidal formation, ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Pyramidal formation, ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Portion of stone terrace ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Portion of stone terrace ruins above Tonala, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Mitla, State of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Mitla, State of Oaxaca, Mexico.


Mraz, John. Looking for Mexico: Modern Visual Culture and National Identity. Durham: Duke UP, 2009. Print.

Archaeological Complex of Tiwanaku

Ciudad arqueológica de Tiwanaku.

Archaeological site of Tiwanaku.

Contrary to most of our latest posts, more or less informed, this one is a cry for help.

A few months ago we found these gelatin silver prints on matte paper, dated circa 1930s,  of the archaeological site of Tiwanaku.

Nestled in a Bolivian highland valley 13,000 feet above sea level, the broad altiplano of Tiwanaku is defined on three sides by mountain ranges and on the fourth by Lake Titicaca.

Detalle de la Puerta del Sol, Tiwanaku.

Detail of Puerta del Sol, Tiwanaku.

Through the years it’s been photographed and studied by many archaeologists, photographers and explorers; and with the help of the “Pioneer Photography in Bolivia: Directory of Daguerreotypists and Photographers, 1840s-1930s” by Daniel Buck we were able to make a list of names worth looking into. Names such as Arthur Posnansky, Miguel Chani, Erich Arendt, Hans Helfritz, Sintich Hermanos, Wendell Bennett, and others.

Going through dozens of books about Tiwanaku and Bolivia at the library of the Quai Branly museum, we found out that most of these people did visit and photograph the site but at the end of the XIX century and beginning of the XX century. The list of names is long, and for more than a few of them we could not find any reproduction of their work.

Iglesia de Tiwanaku.

The Tiwanaku Church was build in 1612. Two monoliths, extracted from the ruins of Tiwanaku, adorn the entrance of the church as a way to give Catholic authority to the natives and invite them to the new religion.

There is written evidence that shows that Posnansky was in Tiwanaku at the end of the 1920s but unfortunately we couldn’t find any photo material from this era, not even in his final and most important book, Tihuanacu, the Cradle of American Man. In the beginning of 2014, eleven thousand documents and photographs from Arthur Posnansky were recovered, however, the photos are dated 1900.

Ciudad arqueológica de Tiwanaku.

Ciudad arqueológica de Tiwanaku.

After not finding any helpful information in books we turned to the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in Bolivia (Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore – MUSEF) without much luck either. Several emails to different staff members and directors were unanswered.

None of our photographs were found at the Museum of Natural History/South American Archaeological Collection, at the Brooklyn Museum, or at the Quai Branly.

Ciudad arqueológica de Tiwanaku.

Archaeological city of Tiwanaku.

Ciudad arqueológica de Tiwanaku.

Archaeological city of Tiwanaku.

In our opinion, a lot of these images have a certain aesthetic and sensitivity that we think someone just studying the complex would not necessarily have. They feel more artistic.

Tiwanaku is without a doubt the most important archaeological site in Bolivia. We will be very thankful if anyone has any idea of who could’ve been the photographer or suggestions on where to look further.

Detalle de la ciudad arqueológica de Tiwanaku.

Detail of the archaeological site of Tiwanaku.