All Collections > Collection Guide
See all Images | Search Collection:

The Middle East in Early Prints and Photographs

Several thousand prints and photographs contained in works from the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th century. These include books illustrated with prints or photographs, photograph albums, and archival compilations; the processes represented range from engravings to lithographs, and from salt prints to heliogravures.

Collection Contents  |  Related Subjects

Sphinx at Gizeh. Digital ID: 82626. Sphinx at Gizeh. Digital ID: 82626.

Collection History

The materials selected for the debut of this evolving digital collection include classics of illustrated travel and regional archaeology, as well as the Library's earliest works of photography in the Middle East region. In general, they came to the Library from the founding collections of the Astor and Lenox libraries; these institutions had in turn acquired many titles as contemporary illustrated publications of their time. The digital collection ranges to the turn of the last century when entrepreneurial photographers and publishers mass-produced handsome mounted photographs, custom albums, and elegant photo-mechanically printed books for the tourist. Most of the photographic compilations came to the Library as gifts from the descendents of the travelers whose journeys they evoke.

Background

Monuments of ancient Egypt and the Biblical world figured prominently in the early years of photography. French Academician François Arago (1786-1853) endorsed the new medium in 1839 claiming it would provide a labor-saving means "to copy the millions and millions of hieroglyphics which entirely cover the great monuments at Thebes, Memphis and Carnac, etc." Immediately artist-travelers took chemicals, cameras, and photographic plates of metal, and later glass into the regions around the southeastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, to record the famous sights that had been known previously to Westerners only through the intervention of the artist's hand.

In addition to early photographic pioneers Du Camp, Salzmann, Robertson & Beato, and Frith, the collection includes work by image providers catering to tourist travelers in the last third of the 19th century, such as Arnoux, A. Beato, Bonfils, Lekegian, Sébah, and Zangaki. The selection offers resources for exploring Western impressions of the Middle East in that era through the lens of practitioners of the new medium of photography, and in turn through the expectations, preferences, and assumptions of its consumers.

Related Resources

Beelden van de Oriënt: fotografie en toerisme, 1860-1900 = Images of the Orient: Photography and Tourism, 1860-1900. (c1986)

Chevedden, Paul E. The Photographic Heritage of the Middle East: an Exhibition of Early Photographs of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece, & Iran, 1849-1893. (c1981) Occasional papers on the Near East; OP 1/3.

Dewitz, Bodo von. An den süssen Ufern Asiens: Ägypten, Palästina, Osmanisches Reich: Reiseziele des 19. Jahrhunderts in frühen Photographien.(1988)

Evans, Elaine Altman. Scholars, Scoundrels, and the Sphinx: a Photographic and Archaeological Adventure Up the Nile. (2000)

Graham-Brown, Sarah. Images of Women: the Portrayal of Women in Photography of the Middle East, 1860-1950. (1988)

Howe, Kathleen Stewart. Excursions Along the Nile: the Photographic Discovery of Ancient Egypt. (c1993)

Jammes, Marie-Thérèse. En Egypte au temps de Flaubert: 1839-1860, les premiers photographes. ([1980])

L'Orientalisme: l'Orient des photographes au XIXe siècle. (c1994)

Perez, Nissan N. Focus East: Early Photography in the Near East, 1839-1885. (1988)

Vaczek, Louis Charles and Gail Buckland. Travelers in Ancient Lands: a Portrait of the Middle East, 1839-1919. (c1981)

Library Division(s)

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the vast collections of The New York Public Library, including drawings, illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.