Sacred Land: Seeing Israel Through A New Lens

Opening Reception: Tuesday, March 19, 6-8 pm EST
Location: Heller Museum – Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, One West Fourth Street, New York
Photographs by Ralph Gibson; Produced by Martin Cohen

Sacred land photographs

On view: March 19 – July 8, 2024
Location:Heller Museum, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, One West Fourth Street, New York City

Photographs by Ralph Gibson; Produced by Martin Cohen

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While visiting Paris Photo in November 2018, HUC-JIR Governor Martin Cohen, asked his friend, the renowned photographer Ralph Gibson, if he had ever been to Israel and discovered that Gibson had not but had always wanted to visit there. Cohen recalls, “Having been there many times, and knowing Ralph’s body of work, it came to me that a view of this country through Ralph’s lens would capture Israel in a unique, moving, artistic, and informative manner.” It was Cohen’s love of Israel that was the inspiration for a project that would take Gibson to Israel on his first-ever visit to Israel in 2019 – in fact three visits throughout that year — and that would result in the extraordinary publication and exhibition, “Sacred Land,” opening on March 19 at HUC-JIR’s Heller Museum in New York and on view through July 8.

Cohen notes, “One’s first visit to Israel erases almost all preconceived notions of what this country is about. It is not until you see in person the beauty, history, culture, diversity, and spirit of this nation – as well as its challenges – that you can begin, but only begin, to understand this unique place on earth. Ralph’s images demonstrate this exquisitely.”

Sacred Land invites us into the eye of the photographer as a first-time visitor to Israel – we see what he sees, what captures his attention. It is in the details, a particular gesture, a candid pose, a fragment, a moment, that we glimpse a deeper meaning. The essence of the images is their intimacy, we are drawn close to people, places, things, the instantaneous and the eternal. Their juxtaposition reveals the convergence of antiquity and modernity.

Ralph Gibson photo from Sacred Land


Gibson describes Israel as “the oldest and youngest country in the world,” a place where “ancient luminosity refracts into mythology and biblical wisdom” and the durability of its limestone foundations hardened with exposure to the air, “speak louder and stronger every thousand years or so…becoming as permanent as time itself.” Cohen adds, “In this relatively small nation one can witness and relive the very beginnings of world history; experience the world’s most advanced institutions in science, technology, and medicine – and everything in between. Jerusalem exists at the intersection of nearly all modern religions,”

Ralph Gibson photo from Sacred Land


The natural beauty of the details of the landscape, nature, and millennia-old archaeological artifacts express a timeless sense of wonder and spirituality. The industrial and urban images convey the impact of human imagination, ingenuity, and necessity. While each individual image captures our attention, it is Gibson’s artful pairing of images that creates the special impact of these photographs. Etched stone encounters graffiti. The rugged desert intersects with man-made materials. A quietude amid the cacophony of modern life. Each juxtaposition sparks the viewer’s imagination in making the connections – visually, emotionally, and psychologically.

Ralph Gibson photo from Sacred Land

Gibson conveys the complexity and multiplicity of this sacred land – across ethnicities, faiths, and transcending the millennia. His images are captured in the moment – sometimes dramatic, sometimes reflective, always riveting. They express the universal humanity of each being and the transcendence of time.

Rabbi David Ellenson, z”l, HUC-JIR Chancellor Emeritus, wrote, “Ralph Gibson captures the majestic mountains and stark hills and valleys of this land, but never forgets its human landscapes, the auras of its Christian and Muslim and Jewish forms of religious piety, and its contrasting secular and irreverent citizenry and the vibrant pulses of its modern life.”

Ralph Gibson photo from Sacred Land


Ralph Gibson photo from Sacred Land


“Gibson’s photographs convey the fundamental humanity and underlying affinities that connect all who deem this land as sacred, and express aspirations for healing, mutual understanding, and peace. At a time when the war and suffering in Israel and Gaza overwhelm us, Gibson’s images offer a compelling and hopeful outlook for the future,” states Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Director of the Heller Museum.

Ralph Gibson photo from Sacred Land



Ralph Gibson has produced over 40 monographs, and his photographs are included in 170 museum collections around the world and have appeared in hundreds of exhibitions. He has worked exclusively with the Leica for almost 60 years and has received numerous awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship (1986) and Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.

Martin Cohen is Chairman and Co-Founder of Cohen & Steers, Inc., an investment management firm, and a member of the Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.



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The exhibition catalog for Sacred Land can be viewed online at


Sacred Land exhibition art

Sacred Land by Ralph Gibson
Publisher: Lustrum Press
Available on

Presented by the Irma L. and Abram S. Croll Center for Jewish Learning and Culture with the generous support of Michele and Martin Cohen and George, z”l, and Mildred Weissman, z”l

Location: Heller Museum, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
One West Fourth Street, New York

Admission: Free, photo ID required.

Hours: Mondays-Thursday, 9 am – 6:30 pm

Tours/Information: 212-824-2218;