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Raharla, Minister to the Queen
Albumen silver print, from glass negative
19.4 × 12 cm (7 5/8 × 4 3/4 in.) (image) 28.7 × 23.1 cm (11 5/16 × 9 1/8 in.) (mount)
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005, Accession Number: 2005.100.73
Curatorial description (accessed: 15 March 2017)
An archaeologist-adventurer who had gained recognition for his photographic exploration of pre-Columbian Mexican ruins, Claude Joseph Désiré Charnay spent three months in Madagascar in 1863 as a diarist and photographer for a French scientific expedition. Because of both political upheaval and the xenophobic stand taken by the new government of the island, the mission was an abortive one, its only result being Charnay's photographs and the account he wrote of his stay for the periodical "Le Tour du Monde" in 1864, illustrated with wood engravings based on his photographs.
The portraits Charnay made of the Madagascans were conceived as a catalogue of ethnic types rather than as a gallery of individuals. By placing his figures full-length in the middle of the frame and having them face his camera squarely, Charnay emulated the detached, impersonal stance of an anthropologist. He was, however, sensitive to the intelligence and poise of Raharla, minister to the queen, whom he photographed on two occasions, contrasting in crisp detail the textures of his elaborate Western clothes against the blurred background of his unprepossessing surroundings. Indeed, in his article, which was otherwise critical of the anti-French ruling class, Charnay wrote with a certain admiration about the British-educated minister and the ease with which he wore his European attire.