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Gustave Le Gray
[Soldier and Military Camel]
24.2 x 30.7 cm (9 1/2 x 12 1/16 in.) (image) 37.7 x 43.4 cm (14 13/16 x 17 1/16 in.) (mount)
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2002, Accession Number: 2002.257
Curatorial description (Accessed: 10 June 2016)
Though he was the most influential and renowned photographer in France, Le Gray's expenses had far outpaced his revenues by early 1860. Fleeing his creditors, he closed his Paris studio, abandoned his wife and children, and set off on what was meant to be a few months' cruise on the rivers of Asia aboard Alexandre Dumas's ship Emma. Dumas detoured to Palermo to join Garibaldi, then headed to Malta, where, following an argument, he abandoned Le Gray and two others.
Le Gray and his companions made their way east to Cairo, where he set up a studio and enjoyed official commissions from the pasha of Egypt. This photograph is part of Le Gray's first commission, a series depicting a corps of military camels, some outfitted with artillery, soon to be dispatched to a campaign in the Sudan. Despite a subject matter radically different from any he had tackled before, the image is marked by the artist's eye for telling detail and grand sense of theatricality. Camel, soldier, and equipment are spread across the page, as if on stage before a painted backdrop, ready to take their places in an updated production of Aida.