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HomeContentsThemes > The Pyramids and the Sphinx

Contents

The Pyramids and the Sphinx
548.01   Egypt: The Pyramids
548.02   Egypt: Climbing the Pyramids
548.03   Egypt: The Sphinx
Photographers
548.04   H. Béchard: The Pyramids
548.05   Charles Piazzi Smyth: Lantern slides and other photographs of Egypt
548.06   Charles Piazzi Smyth: Use of magnesium light at the Great Pyramid (1865)
This theme includes example sections and will be revised and added to as we proceed. Suggestions for additions, improvements and the correction of factual errors are always appreciated.
 
  
The Pyramids and the Sphinx 
  
548.01   Africa >  Egypt: The Pyramids 
  
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Slideshow (Be patient as this has 34 slides to load.) 
  
Archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie in the introduction to his book The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh (1883) wrote of the photographs of the Pyramids and how they could be obtained:
Of photographs, over five hundred were taken, on 1/4 size dry plates, mainly of architectural points, and to show typical features. Volumes of prints of these may be examined on application to me, and copies can be ordered from a London photographer.[1]
 
  
   Pyramids 
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548.02   Africa >  Egypt: Climbing the Pyramids 
  
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Slideshow 
  
With each significant location around the world there are common shots and views of travellers clambering up the Great Pyramid in Egypt is one of these. It was the nineteenth century equivalent of being photographed on a rollercoaster at a Disney theme park.
 
Contemporary accounts of the climb indicate the effort required.
 
George Anson, A Voyage Round the World, in the Years 1740, 41, 42, 43, 44 (W. Smith), p. 10
Even as I walked around it, and looked up at it from the base, I did not feel its immensity until I commenced ascending; then, having climbed some distance up, when I stopped to breathe and looked down upon my friend below, who was dwindled to insect size, and then up at the great distance between me and the summit, i then realized in all their force the huge dimensions of this giant work. It took me twenty minutes to mount to the summit; about the same time that it had required to mount the cones of Etna and Vesuvius. The ascent is not particularly difficult, at least with the assistance of the Arabs. There are two hundred and six tiers of stone, from one to four feet in height, each two or three feet smaller than the one below, making what are called the steps. Very often the steps were so high that I could not reach them with my feet. Indeed, for the most part, I was obliged to climb with my knees, deriving great assistance from the step which one Arab made for me with his knee, and the helping hand of another above.[2]
Henry Edward Fan, 1842, Five Years in India (London: Henry Colburn), p. 291:
We first climbed to the top of the Great Pyramid, one of the most fatiguing jobs I ever had the misfortune to try; and what between the heat and smell of the Arabs, who insisted upon lifting one up, whether one liked it or not, and the height of the stones, I was nearly exhausted when I found myself on the top: the entire pyramid being some 450 feet high.[3]
Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, 1858, Murrays - A Handbook for Travellers in Egypt (London: John Murray), p. 166
The first thing the traveller generally does, on arriving at the pyramids, is to ascend that of Cheops. The ascent is by no means difficult, though fatiguing to some unaccustomed to climbing, from the height of the stones, while others ascend with the greatest ease; and I have known one, an officer of the Cyclops, reach the top in 8 min. Ladies, who are often dragged up, rather than assisted, by the Arabs, will find a great advantage in having a couple of steps, or a footstool, to be carried by the Arabs, and put down where the stones are high; and this would be not less useful in descending than in going up the pyramid. [4]
 
  
548.03   Africa >  Egypt: The Sphinx 
  
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Slideshow (Be patient as this has 22 slides to load.) 
  
 
  
Photographers 
  
548.04   Africa >  H. Béchard: The Pyramids 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
  
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Slideshow 
  
There are quite a number of photographs taken in Egypt that have a signature "H. Bechard" in the negative. Recent research is starting to question who this was. It may be that "Henri Bechard" never existed and H. Bechard refers to "Hippolyte Bechard" who was the brother of Émile Bechard. "Hippolyte Bechard" never visited Egypt but may have been responsible for printing and/or marketing his brother's Egyptian photographs in France.[5] 
  
548.05   Africa >  Charles Piazzi Smyth: Lantern slides and other photographs of Egypt 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
  
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Slideshow 
  
Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819-1900),[6] remembered for his astronomical photography in Teneriffe[7] and early street photography in Russia[8], also studied The Great Pyramid.[9] He was a pioneer in using magnesium light to photograph the interior chambers and there are fascinating contemporary descriptions of his work.  
  
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Charles Piazzi Smyth: Use of Magnesium light inside The Great Pyramid 
  
Some of his photographs were also made into magic lantern slides for lecturing. 
  
548.06   Africa >  Charles Piazzi Smyth: Use of magnesium light at the Great Pyramid (1865) 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
  
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Slideshow 
  
The astronomer Charles Piazzi Smyth in 1865 experimented with magnesium wire at the Great Pyramid[10] and recounted his experiences:
... and I was now fully occupied in preparing the photographic plates. How much magnesium should be burned in order to produce a photograph, was a question only to be settled by actual trial; I suspected much more than what had been employed hitherto in portrait-taking in England; first, because a large surface, say fifteen feet by ten, had to be illuminated; and secondly, because that surface was excessively dark and unreflective. At the first attempt, therefore, we tried sixty grains, burning it in the shape of hanging tapers in Mr. Brother's (of Manchester) very convenient shield-holders. A faint picture appeared. With another pair of plates, aperture l-5th all the time, one hundred grains were consumed; and still the picture was faint. So then one hundred and twenty grains were tried with a third pair of plates; and hardly any impression was obtained! This bad result arose from the vapour of the burning magnesium diffusing itself throughout the room, in spite of all our efforts to condense it on surfaces of glass or porcelain. So by ten o'clock, finding the atmosphere of the King's chamber was so thick we could hardly see the further end, we left the apparatus standing, and under special guardianship of two Arabs, who were to remain at the head of the Grand Gallery all day. About three p.m. I returned, to find the top of the said Grand Gallery smelling fearfully of Arab men; and the room still smoky. A pair of plates was tried, but one of the white-robed Muslims looming through dense haze, was all that was pictured by an expenditure of another one hundred and twenty grains of magnesium. The ordinary candles, too, burned very palely; and we deeply deplored once again, that the ancient ventilating channels had been surreptitiously stopped up within the last few years.[11]
The use of a measuring staff or graduated scale to record the size of objects within photographs was appreciated early on and was suggested as early as 1841 in The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal:
The facility with which this discovery [photography] may be applied to taking accurate views of buildings, works, or machinery at rest, renders it an object of great interest to Engineers; since by these means maybe obtained the general dimensions of works, with perfect accuracy in a very small space of time, and by affixing a graduated scale to the objects to be copied, the photographic delineation would present the means of determining the dimensions of every part.[12]
 
  
 
  

Footnotes 
  
  1. Λ Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, 1883, The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, (Field & Tuer), p. xiv 
      
  2. Λ George Anson, A Voyage Round the World, in the Years 1740, 41, 42, 43, 44 (W. Smith), p. 10 
      
  3. Λ Henry Edward Fan, 1842, Five Years in India (London: Henry Colburn), p. 291 
      
  4. Λ Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, 1858, Murrays - A Handbook for Travellers in Egypt (London: John Murray), p. 166 
      
  5. Λ F. Fiorelli, 2013, Viaggio in Oriente: Fotografie dell'Africa a Casa Martelli, (Sillabe)
     
    Thanks to Roberto Cassanelli, Professor in the history of photography, Università cattolica di Milano for bringing this to my attention (pers. email, 9 January 2014). Thanks also to Michael Jacobs for assisting with the translation. 
      
  6. Λ Hermann Alexander Brück & Mary T. Brück, 1988, The Peripatetic Astronomer: The Life of Charles Piazzi Smyth, (Bristol: Adam Hilger) 
      
  7. Λ C. Piazzi Smyth, 1858, Teneriffe - An Astronomer's Experiment, (Lowell Reeve)
     
    Larry Schaaf, 1980, ‘Piazzi Smyth at Tenerife: Part 1: The Expedition and the Resulting Book‘, History of Photography, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 289-307; Larry Schaaf, 1981, ‘Piazzi Smyth at Tenerife: Part 2: Photography and the Disciples of Constable and Harding‘, History of Photography, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 27-50 
      
  8. Λ C. Piazzi Smyth, 1862, Three Cities in Russia, (London: Lovell, Reeve & Co.) [2 volumes] 
      
  9. Λ C. Piazzi Smyth, 1867, Life and Work at the Great Pyramid during the Months of January, February, March, and April, A.D. 1865; with a Discussion of the Facts Ascertained, (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas) [3 volumes]; C. Piazzi Smyth, 1870, A Poor Man's Photography at the Great Pyramid in the year 1865, (London: Henry Greenwood) [A discourse delivered before the Edinburgh Photographic Society on December 1st, 1869] 
      
  10. Λ Larry Schaaf,1979, ‘Charles Piazzi Smyth's 1865 Conquest of the Great Pyramid‘, History of Photography, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 331-354 
      
  11. Λ C. Piazzi Smyth Life and Work at the Great Pyramid during the Months of January, February, March, and April, A.D. 1865; with a Discussion of the Facts Ascertained, In three volumes. (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1867), vol. I, Chap.XVI, Magnesium Photography, pp. 494-495. 
      
  12. Λ 1841, The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, vol. 4, p. 127 
      

alan@luminous-lint.com

 
  

HomeContents > Further research

 
  
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General reading 
  
Perez, Nissan N., 1988, Focus East: Early Photography in the Near East 1839-1885, (New York: Harry N. Abrams) [Δ
  
 
  
Readings on, or by, individual photographers 
  
Francis Frith 
  
Frith, Francis, 1857, Cairo, Sinai, Jerusalem, and the Pyramids of Egypt, (London: Mackenzie) [Δ
  
Frith, Francis, 1863, Lower Egypt, Thebes, and the Pyramids, (London: William Mackenzie) [Δ
  
John Beasly Greene 
  
Greene, John Beasley, 1854, Le Nil - monuments - paysages [The Nile - Monuments - Landscapes], (Lille: Imprimerie Photographique de Blanquart-Evrard) [2 volumes] [Δ
  
Charles Piazzi Smyth 
  
1865, 1 June, ‘On Magnesium‘, The Technologist, vol. 5, pp. 493-94 [Includes a letter, dated 2 Feb. 1865 from C. Piazzi Smyth to John Spiller.] [Δ
  
1865, 22 September, ‘Photography, Magnesium, and the Pyramid‘, The Mechanics' Magazine, p. 179 [Δ
  
Schaaf, Larry, 1979, ‘Charles Piazzi Smyth's 1865 Conquest of the Great Pyramid‘, History of Photography, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 331-354 [Δ
  
Smyth, C. Piazzi, 1867, Life and Work at the Great Pyramid during the Months of January, February, March, and April, A.D. 1865; with a Discussion of the Facts Ascertained, (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas) [3 volumes] [Δ
  
Smyth, C. Piazzi, 1870, A Poor Man's Photography at the Great Pyramid in the year 1865, (London: Henry Greenwood) [A discourse delivered before the Edinburgh Photographic Society on December 1st, 1869] [Δ
  
 
  
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan - alan@luminous-lint.com 
  

HomeContentsPhotographers > Photographers worth investigating

 
Ernest Ashton  (1860-1951) • Antonio Beato • Émile Béchard • H. Béchard • Félix Bonfils  (1831-1885) • Chusseau-Flaviens • J. Dozsay • Francis Frith  (1822-1898) • Frank Good  (1839-1928) • Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet  (check) • John Beasly Greene  (1832-1856) • Frank Hurley  (1885-1962) • Lehnert & Landrock •  Aimé Rochas • Pascal Sebah  (1823-1886) • Charles Piazzi Smyth  (1819-1900) • Barry Wolf • Zangaki Brothers
HomeGeographical regionsAfricaEgypt > The Pyramids and the Sphinx 
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Archaeology 
 
  

HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > The Pyramids and the Sphinx

Please submit suggestions for Online Exhibitions that will enhance this theme.
Alan - alan@luminous-lint.com

 
  
ThumbnailEgypt in the 19th Century 
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Improved (August 30, 2009) Includes works by Felix Bonfils.
ThumbnailEgypt, The Pyramids and other archaeological sites 
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Released (February 11, 2009)
ThumbnailFelix Bonfils in Egypt 
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Released (July 9, 2006)
ThumbnailFrancis Bedford: Tour in the East (1862) 
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Released (August 22, 2012)
ThumbnailFrancis Frith: Sinai, Palestine, The Nile 
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Released (August 14, 2007)
ThumbnailThe Ancient World: 19th Century Photographers 
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Released (December 6, 2007)
 
  

HomeVisual indexes > The Pyramids and the Sphinx

Please submit suggestions for Visual Indexes to enhance this theme.
Alan - alan@luminous-lint.com

 
  
   Photographer 
  
ThumbnailAntonio Beato: Egypt: The pyramids 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailCharles Piazzi Smyth: The Great Pyramid and the use of magnesium light 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailCharles Piazzi Smyth: Lantern slides 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailEdward L. Wilson: Photographer at the Pyramids 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailErnest Ashton: Le soir près des Pyramides 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailFélix Bonfils: Egypt: Pyramids and the Sphynx 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailFélix Bonfils: Temple of Chaffra, Sphynx and Pyramid of Cheops 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailFrancis Frith: Egypt: The Pyramids - Variants 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailFrancis Frith: Lower Egypt, Thebes and the Pyramids 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailFrancis Frith: The Pyramids of El-Geezeh, From the South-West 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailFrancis Frith: The Sphynx and the Great Pyramid, Geezeh 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailHenri Béchard: The Pyramids 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailPascal Sebah: Egypt: The Pyramids and the Sphinx 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailZangaki Brothers: Cheops Pyramid, Egypt 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailZangaki Brothers: The Sphinx - with their Dark-Room-Car 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
 
 
  
   Geography 
  
ThumbnailEgypt: The Pyramids 
ThumbnailEgypt: The Pyramids: Climbing 
ThumbnailEgypt: The Sphinx 
 
 
  
Refreshed: 11 October 2014, 15:13
 
  
 
  
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