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Egypt, The Pyramids and other archaeological sites This exhibition will change over time and illustrates how the different archaeological sites within Egypt were photographed during the nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth centuries.
Here are the ever popular monuments including the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure all in the area of Giza (El-Geezeh, Gizeh) along with popular activity of tourists climbing them and the nearby Sphinx where the photographs reveal it as the sands were cleared away over the years.
Other popular travel destinations included Saqqara (Sakkara) with the early Step Pyramid of Djoser and Dahshur (Dashoor) with the Bent Pyramid of Snofru. In the 19th century the pyramids were recorded on salt prints using paper negatives by John Beasley Greene in 1854 and by Francis Frith from 1856 onwards whose albumen prints were included in various publications including Sinai, Palestine, The Nile and Egypt, Sinai and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views and a detailed account is included in Douglas R. Nickel Francis Frith in Egypt and Palestine: A Victorian Photographer Abroad (Princeton University Press, 2003). Given the public interest in Egyptian monuments they were recorded in detail by photographers including Antonio Beato, Émile Béchard, Henri Béchard, P. Dittrich, Hippolyte Arnoux, Gustave Le Gray, Frank Good, the Zangaki Brothers, Félix Bonfils, Pascal Sebah, Félix Teynard and numerous others.
In addition to the pyramids there are innumerable archaeological sites in Egypt and some of these, because of their proximity to the Nile making transport relatively easy and their immense size, captured the imagination of travelers and early photographers. The complex at Dendera with the vast Hathor Temple was photographed by Louis de Clercq, Francis Frith and the firm of Negretti & Zambra. Philae is another site that was well known to the ancient authors such as Diodorus, Pliny the Elder, Ptolemy, Seneca and Strabo and it was a ritual center with its significance coming from being one of the supposed burial sites of Osiris. The picturesque island of Philae was described by the archaeologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni.
"I cannot avoid observing, that this island is the most superb group of ruins I ever beheld together in so small a piece of ground. The whole island, which is not more than a thousand feet in length, and less than five hundred in breadth, is richly covered with ruins; and being detached from the other barren islands which surround it at some distance, has a superb appearance." (Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations, in Egypt and Nubia, London, John Murray, 1820)
The British novelist Amelia Edwards also described Philae when she visited in 1873-74.
"The approach by water is quite the most beautiful. Seen from the level of a small boat, the island, with its palms, its colonnades, its pylons, seems to rise out of the river like a mirage. Piled rocks frame it on either side, and the purple mountains close up the distance. As the boat glides nearer between glistening boulders, those sculptured towers rise higher and even higher against the sky. They show no sign of ruin or age. All looks solid, stately, perfect. One forgets for the moment that anything is changed. If a sound of antique chanting were to be borne along the quiet air–if a procession of white-robed priests bearing aloft the veiled ark of the God, were to come sweeping round between the palms and pylons–we should not think it strange."
Part of the significance of the nineteenth century photographs by Maxime Du Camp, Henry Cammas, Francis Frith, Negretti & Zambra, Henri Bechard and others is that they record the original location of the Philae monuments before they were moved 550 meters in the late 1970s as a UNESCO project to escape the rising waters of the Aswan Dam.
Each of the great archaeological monuments at Karnac, Luxor, Abu Simbel, Medinet Haboo and Thebes with the nearby Colossi of Memnon - the massive scultpures actually show Pharaoh Amenhotep III - was photographed in hot and dusty conditions not suited to the intricacies of the wet plate collodion process used at the time. I‘d like to thank John Hannavy for bringing to my attention the words of Francis Frith in Egypt and Palestine, Photographed and Described (London: James S. Virtue, [1858-1859]).
"When I reflect upon the circumstances under which many of the photographs were taken, I marvel greatly that they turned out so well. Now in a smothering little tent, my collodion fizzling – boiling up all over the glass the moment it touched – and, yet again, pushing my way backwards on my hands and knees, into a damp, slimy rock tomb to manipulate, – it is truly marvelous that the results should be presentable at all."