Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Sepia Saturday 223: The Finest Equipped Photographic Gallery in the Vicinity

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Marilyn Brindley

This week's Sepia Saturday image prompt is all about buildings and town scenes. I'll be taking a closer look at some tintypes from my own family's collection, and an emerging story about a photographic studio in Chicago, Illinois. The building itself will only appear later in the article, so please bear with me.

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
Charles Leslie Lionel Payne (1892-1975), taken c. October-November 1892
Sixth plate tintypes (63 x 88mm, 65 x 90mm), unidentified photographer
Probably by H.R. Koopman, 11104 Michigan Ave, Roseland, Chicago
Images © and collection of Brett Payne & Barbara Ellison

Among the family photographs that my aunt and I have inherited are a series of four sixth-plate tintypes. The term "sixth-plate" refers to the size of the photograph, produced by cutting a full plate (8½" x 6½" or 216 x 165mm) into six, each measuring roughly (2¾" x 3¼" or 70 x 83mm). As with many such tintypes, the edges are roughly cut and the corners have been trimmed to make them easier to slip into photo album slots.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
Detail of two six-plate tintype portraits of Leslie Payne

As is also commonly found with this format, they have no photographer's details or other distinuishing marks, but I can be fairly certain that the two almost identical portraits of my grandfather Charles Leslie Lionel Payne were taken in Chicago. He was born there in April 1892 and returned to England with his parents in mid- to late November that year, so would have been six or seven moths old at the time he parents took him to the studio. The two images appear at first glance to be of the same view. A detailed examination of the child in the pram reveals identical poses which I think we have to assume would be impossible to duplicate for two separate exposures.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
Detail of two six-plate tintype portraits of Leslie Payne

Sharp-eyed readers will however have noticed subtle differences, which are more obvious in these two views of the pram's undercarriage. There is a considerable shift in the position of the rear axle in relation to the rim of the front wheel in the two images. How can this be if the two photographs were taken in the same split second, as evidenced by the child's pose? Well, the answer lies in a question of parallax, defined in the COD as the "apparent displacement of an object, caused by actual change of point of observation." This Wikipedia article has an animation which shows the effect very well.

Image © and courtesy of Rob Niederman
9-tube "Gem" wet-plate camera, by unknown U.S. maker
Image © and courtesy of Rob Niederman

In other words, the two portraits were indeed taken at the same instant, but from two slightly different positions. This was achievable with a multi-lens camera, such as the one shown above. Camera collector and very knowledgeable historian Rob Niederman points out that the noticeable vertical parallax, along with no perceptible horizontal parallax, suggests the second image was probably directly above the first on the original plate. The camera must have had at least a four lens set (1/9-tubes, using a 4¼" x 5¼" plate) or conceivably 9, 12 or 16 lens sets. He adds, "In summary, studio outfits were very adaptable in what you could do with them."

Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
Charles Hallam Payne (1870-1960), taken c. 1892
Sixth plate tintype (62 x 86mm), unidentified photographer
Probably by H.R. Koopman, 11104 Michigan Ave, Roseland, Chicago
Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison

The third tintype is a three-quarter length standing portrait of Leslie's Uncle Hallam - Charles Hallam Payne (1870-1960) - who was with Leslie and his parents in Chicago in 1891 and 1892.

Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
Unidentified subject, taken c. 1892
Sixth plate tintype (66 x 88mm), unidentified photographer
Probably by H.R. Koopman, 11104 Michigan Ave, Roseland, Chicago
Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison

In the fourth portrait, an unidentified young man, smartly dressed and with a moustache, is seated in a studio with a painted backdrop.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
Detail of backdrops in two six-plate tintype portraits

Examination of the painted backdrop (above left) shows similarities with that used in the two portraits of Leslie Payne. I have some reservations, but the similarity of the branches and knots in the tree trunks has more or less convinced me that they are the same backdrop, although perhaps touched up a little between the two sittings.

It seems likely therefore, given the similarity of features and their provenance, that all four tintype portraits were taken in the same studio. But who was the man with a moustache?

Pullman Car Works, Roseland, Chicago, c.1890
Photograph by H.R. Koopman

Leslie's parents Charles Vincent and Amy Payne had travelled to Chicago, Illinois from their home in Derbyshire, England in May-June 1891, very soon after their wedding. Accompanying them was Vincent's younger brother Frank Payne, and together they would join another brother Charles Hallam Payne, who had gone to Chicago to look for work a year earlier. Uncle Hallam had been working as a carpenter at the Pullman Car Works.

The moustachioed man is obviously not Charles Hallam and, by comparison with many other photographs in my collection, is not my grandfather Charles Vincent. I thought at first that it might be Frank (unfortunately we have no other photographs in the family collection with which to compare it), but Frank would have been only 18 years old at the time, so I think that is very unlikely. Perhaps he was a friend.

Pullman Car Works, Roseland, Chicago, c.1890
Photograph by H.R. Koopman

In a letter written to him on 12 January 1891 his father Henry Payne thanked Hallam for a ...
"... book of Pulman [sic]. I am glad to hear that Pulman does not go in for many hotels. Perhaps you will make a note of that."
This book, currently in the collection of my aunt, includes a number of photographs of Pulman's works and the town he built to house his workers, including the two shown above, all taken by photographer H.R. Koopman.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Employee's Pass for The World's Columbian Exposition, 1 June 1892

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
United Carpenter's Council Quarterly Working Card, Oct-Dec 1892

Some time after the arrival of his brothers all three found employment at the Chicago World's Fair, officially known as The World's Columbian Exposition. However, it appears that they were still living in Roseland - Lesley Payne's birth certificate shows that he was born at 10810 Curtis Ave, Roseland, Chicago on 9 April 1892.

Image © Pullman State Historic Site & courtesy of Illinois Digital ArchivesImage © Pullman State Historic Site & courtesy of Illinois Digital Archives
Koopman Advertising Flyer, 1 May 1888, Printed paper (150 x 220mm)
Portrait of H.R. Koopman, c. 1894, Oval silver gelatin print (70 x 133mm) on grey-coloured card mount (108 x 212mm)
Images © Pullman State Historic Site, courtesy of Illinois Digital Archives

Henry Ralph Koopman (1865-1944) operated photographic studio in Roseland, a suburb of Chicago, from 1884 until the early 1900s, offering a wide variety of formats at what he boasted was the "finest equipped photograph gallery in the vicinity."

Image © Pullman State Historic Site & courtesy of Illinois Digital Archives
Koopman's Photograph Gallery, Cor. 111th St and Michigan Av., 1886
Silver gelatin print (239 x 182mm) mounted on card
Image © Pullman State Historic Site, courtesy of Illinois Digital Archives

This image of Koopman's Photograph Gallery at 11106 South Michigan Avenue, on the corner with 111th Street, was taken in 1886. The large windows and skylight on the side of the building indicate the position of the studio towards the rear. By the time the Paynes arrived in Roseland in 1892, where they lived only three blocks away from the gallery, Koopman had built himself a much grander three-story building with a studio on the third floor, although I've not managed to find a corresponding external view.

Image © Pullman State Historic Site & courtesy of Illinois Digital Archives Image © and courtesy of The Cabinet Card Gallery
Portraits of unidentified woman and children, c. late 1880s
Cabinet portraits taken by H.R. Koopman, Roseland, Illinois
Images © Pullman State Historic Site & courtesy of Illinois Digital Archives, © and courtesy of The Cabinet Card Gallery

The cabinet portraits above were taken in the late 1880s to early 1890s in Koopman's studio, and demonstrate that he used a very similar style of painted backdrop to those seen in the tintypes, although I have been unable to match the specific backdrop used in the latter with any marked Koopman portraits.

Image © Pullman State Historic Site & courtesy of Illinois Digital Archives
HR Koopman photographing his daughter, Marie, in his studio, c. 1895
Silver gelatin print (353 x 279mm)
Image © Pullman State Historic Site, courtesy of Illinois Digital Archives

This wonderfully evocative print from Koopman's archives preserved at the Pullman State Historic Site shows the photographer himself at work in the studio, capturing a portrait of his daughter Marie around 1895. He is composing the image on a ground glass screen at the back of a large format glass-plate studio camera, his head under a black cloth to exclude light. The lighting available from the large window and skylight can be moderated and diffused by the drapes hanging from the ceiling. A painted canvas backdrop is in place behind the seated girl, and a second rolled backdrop can be seen hanging above. There are a number of different items of standard studio furniture, including padded stool, side tables, cane chair, ornate screen, carpets and curtains, as well as a small stove to keep the studio warm and the clients comfortable.

Charles Vincent Payne, August 1891
Cabinet card by Harrison & Coover, Central Music Hall,
cnr. State & Randolph Streets, Chicago, Illinois
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

There were many photographic studios in Chicago, and I even have a cabinet portrait of my great-grandfather Charles Vincent Payne taken at Harrison & Coover's downtown studio in August 1891. However, I don't believe there were many photographers operating in Roseland in the early 1890s, and I think it is very likely that all four tintypes were made there. However, until I find another portrait showing that identical painted backdrop, I can't be sure. To this end, I've saved a search for Koopman portraits on eBay in the hope that some will turn up in due course.

The identity of the moustachioed man remains a mystery.

References and Further Reading

Horn, Don (2003) The Pullman Photographers, Railroad Heritage, No. 7, p. 5.

Nickell, Joe (2010) Camera Clues: A Handbook for Photographic Investigation, University Press of Kentucky.

Payne, Brett (2003) Fifty Years of Payne Journeys to North America - 1890-1892 : Chicago, Pullman & the Worlds Fair.

Payne, Brett (2009) Letter to America - A moment in the life of a young girl in late Victorian Derby, on Photo-Sleuth, 14 February 2009.

Payne, Brett (2009) Whistling Bird, the Arizona Cowboy and the Disappearing Lady, on Photo-Sleuth, 1 November 2009.

Payne, Brett (2011) Fearless femmes: great-grandmother Amy, on Photo-Sleuth, 6 March 2011.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Sepia Saturday 222: A Question of Berthage

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Marilyn Brindley

Last year I had some correspondence with Bill Forster relating to the Stalag XXID Prisoner of War Camp at Poznan in Poland, which I wrote about in the story of Bill Ball and Work Camp 9. Bill had another query in connection with his own research on a group of sailors who also ended up in Stalag XXID:

I have a puzzle in identifying a photograph of a (French?) port where a requisitioned LNER ferry is berthed which carried the troops of the BEF to France in 1939-40. This is in connection with the book I published about my father's wartime destroyer, HMS Venomous, which I update between editions on my web site. I have successfully identified photographs taken by the men on Venomous at Calais on 21 May 1940 and at Boulogne on 22 May 1940 and uncovered some fascinating stories of the refugees they landed at Folkestone and Dover.

Image courtesy of Bill Forster
HMS Archangel by Eric Pountney
Image courtesy of Bill Forster

But [I] was puzzled by [this] photograph taken by the Wireless Telegraphy Operator, Eric Pountney, until it was identified by members of the "Ships Nostalgia" Forum as the LNER ferry Archangel which was used as a troop transport in 1939-40.

Image courtesy of Bill Forster
HMS Archangel at northern French port, by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR
Image courtesy of Bill Forster

I have recently found a further photograph in my own collection taken by Lt Peter Kershaw of a ship which looks very similar berthed alongside a quay with railways wagons. But where was it taken? Venomous escorted troop carriers from the Solent (Southampton/Portsmouth) to Cherbourg, Le Havre and Brest in the first few weeks of the war and I suspect it would have been taken at one of these channel ports. Where there are no letters or journals - as in the case of Eric Pountney - I rely on his photographs to tell the story.

What I've done is had a good look at all three of the ports that Bill mentioned - Cherbourg, Le Havre and Brest - using the myriad of postcard views that are available, many of them on the Delcampe postcard auction web site. European postcard publishers were prolific, and there are a wealth of sources on the net for images of scenic postcards published before, during and after the Great War, up to the mid- to late 1920s. There appear to be far fewer from the 1930s, and I suspect that this may have been due to financial pressures caused by the Depression, although I haven't found a confirmation of what is really just an assumption on my part to explain the apparent paucity of images.

Le Havre, Bassin de l'Eure, undated postcard view

From what I can tell, Le Havre was the only one of the three which had the very distinctive tower lights, one of which appears close to the edge of the quay at centre-left in Bill's Archangel photo. They are very tall, probably of steel construction with a lattice framework, and are characterised by a curious bell-shaped frame for the lamp hanging from a short at the top. The lighting towers appear in most of the postcard views of Le Havre port from the early 1900s until the late 1920s - as in the view above, undated but probably from the 1920s.

Image courtesy of The Web Gallery of Impressionism
The Inner Harbor, Le Havre, by Camille Pissarro, 1903
Image courtesy of The Web Gallery of Impressionism

They are also depicted in many paintings by Impressionist artists, who appear to have congregated in Le Havre before and after the turn of the century. A typical example painted by that "father of the Impressionists," Camille Pissaro, in 1903 includes one of the characteristic tower lights.

La Nouvelle Digue - The New Dike, Le Havre, postcard view, PM 1927

Sadly, I've been unable to find any images of the port, wharves and quays which show railway carriages, or even areas clearly identifiable as railway sidings, although there were tramlines on some of the quays which serviced the ocean liners, I believe. However, I did find a 1927 (postmark) postcard depicting "La Nouvelle Digue" (or, The New Dike), which may well be where railway sidings were later built. The port was extensively damaged by bombing during the Second World War, so looking at modern photographs is probably no use at all.

Bassin des Torpilleurs, Brest, postcard view, PM 1912

None of the postcards I could find for Brest displayed such tower lights.

L'Entrée des Jetées, Cherbourg, postcard view, PM 1908

I did find a postcard view of the port at Brest with a similar tower light, but the design was sufficiently different to rule it out as a candidate for the Archangel's berth. While I can't rule out this particular quay being at some other as yet unidentified port, I think I can be fairly confident in saying that it's not either Cherbourg or Brest. If the Archangel only visited these three ports, then it was, in all likelihood, Le Havre.

I'm grateful to Bill Forster for permission to include the contents of his email and the the HMS Archangel photographs in this article. I have primarily aimed at demonstrating how the huge database of scenic images, in particular of old postcards, now available in various locations on the internet can be used to research and identify our own family photographs. Apart from the postcards for sale on various auction sites such as Delcampe and eBay, there are many web sites created by postcard enthusiasts. A little inventive searching will find the one with a particular focus that you're looking for.

If you haven't yet had your fill of reading about old photographs and postcards, the remainder of this week's Saturday sepians will no doubt have plenty more.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Sepia Saturday 221: The Photo Boat

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Marilyn Brindley

Travelling photographers catered for quite a different section of the portrait trade from those who had established studios in larger towns. The population of smaller towns and villages just didn't generate enough business to keep a full time permanent studio viable year round. In order to make ends meet, the photographer who either lived in or wished to cater to a small town needed to either find extra work in an alternative trade, or travel further afield in search of customers.

In previous articles here on Photo-Sleuth I have written about several of these itinerant tradesmen who worked in Derbyshire, England: "Professor" Frank Simpson, Charles Tyler and Charles Warwick all owned caravans and toured the countryside, often following the circuit of summer fairs.

Image © and courtesy of Richard D. Sheaff
J.B. Silvis' U.P.P.R. Photograph Car
Image © and courtesy of Richard D. Sheaff

In North America the rapid settlement of vast expanses of land in the late nineteenth century meant that practitioners who wished to ply their trade there needed to be inventive. Much of the expansion took place along the network of railroads, it is therefore not surprising that railroad photographers set up business to service these disparate communities. The most famous of these was perhaps John B. Silvis, proprietor of the Union Pacific Rail Road car, who took portraits and sold stereoscopic and other landscape views along the Union Pacific and other companies' railway tracks from 1870 until 1882.

Image © and courtesy of Jana Last
F.E. Webster's Dental and Photo Boats, Lake Charles, Calcasieu, Louisiana
Mounted paper print, 204 x 153mm
Image © and courtesy of Jana Last

In parts of the United States, however, communities were linked by waterways rather than roads or railways. Many tradespeople serviced their customers from riverboats, but I had never come across a photographic studio housed on one until I saw this image shared by Jana Last on her family history blog. Jana's maternal great-grandfather Frederick Emory Webster (1864-1946) graduated from the Western Dental College, Kansas City, Missouri in April 1896. Some time during the next decade he appears to have operated a dental surgery from the boat shown at centre in the photograph above which, according to the handwritten caption, is on the shore of Lake Charles in Louisiana.

Image © and courtesy of Jana Last
Detail of F.E. Webster's Photo Boat, Lake Charles, Calcasieu, Louisiana

Moored alongside is an almost identical craft with a sign reading "F E WEBSTER PHOTO BOAT." (Click on the image above for more detail.) That it does indeed house a photographic studio seems quite plausible, as the end of the boat closest to shore has large windows and a special skylight with pitched roof which I believe was the actual room where portraits would have been taken.

Image © and courtesy of Jana Last
F.E. Webster's Dental and Photo Boats, unknown location
Mounted paper print, 202 x 124mm
Image © and courtesy of Jana Last

Jana has at least two more photographs of her great-grandfather's boats, although the photographer's studio has now been replaced by the premises of an optician. That the same boat was converted from studio to eye-testing rooms, and presumably a dispensary (or how would he have made a living, since the eye-tests were advertised as free?), is fairly certain because the characteristic skylight is still just visible in both photographs.

In fact, the Photo Boat may have been Webster's first craft, as the name painted on the prow appears to read "F.E. Webster No. 1," while that on the dental boat is quite clearly "No. 2." I've not been able to decipher the caption fully (it is written in either Portuguese or Galician, in neither of which I am proficient), but it appears to state that the floating theatre is towed by the steamboat with two smokestacks.

Image © and courtesy of Jana Last
Detail of F.E. Webster's Dental & Photo Boats, Lake Charles, Louisiana

That steamboat appears to be a different one from that in the first photograph taken at Lake Charles (see detail above). Judging from the apparent lack of paddles or smokestacks on the floating studio and surgery, they were not self-propelled, but rather barges towed by a paddle steamer. It's not clear whether Webster owned his own steamer, or whether he just hired one to tow the two barges whenever they had exhausted the opportunities for business in one location and wanted to move to another. However, I did note that the steamboat superstructure also has "Photographer" signwritten on the wheelhouse.

Image © and courtesy of Jana Last
F.E. Webster's Dental and Optical Boats, Natchez, Mississippi
Mounted paper print, 205 x 153mm
Image © and courtesy of Jana Last

The caption on the third photograph indicates that it was taken at Natchez, Mississipi. Locations in FE Webster's timeline show a general migration south, away from his former residences in Stockton (Kansas) and Kansas City (Missouri), down first the Missouri River and then the Mississippi, although since none of the photographs are accurately dated it is difficult to be precise about his movements. By April 1899, when he was granted a patent for a dental handpiece, and shortly after the granting of a divorce from his first wife, he gave his address as "Clarendon, Monroe, Arkansas." It may have been an address of convenience, perhaps that of his lawyer, as presumably he was on the move much of the time.

Image © and courtesy of Jana Last
Portrait of Cynthia Maria Webster née Waterman (1834-1895)
taken by The F.E. Webster Photo Boat, c.1894-1897
Albumen print (47 x 61mm) mounted on printed card (60 x 77mm)
Image © and courtesy of Jana Last

Jana is also very fortunate to have a portrait taken F.E. Webster's Photo Boat studio. Although identified as the photographer's mother, who died in September 1895, I think it's possible it might be the portrait of one of her daughters. Whoever it is, we can see from the card mount that it was produced on the boat, and I believe from the wide sleeves worn by the subject that it was taken in the mid-1890s.

Image © and courtesy of Jana Last
Frederick (Watson) Emory Webster (1864-1946), taken c.1890-1896
Cabinet card print by David P. Thomson of Kansas City, Missouri
Image © and courtesy of Jana Last

Webster, pictured here in Kansas City while he was studying to be a dentist or on his graduation, may not have lasted very long in the photograhic trade, but his choice of studio was pretty unusual. I've not yet found evidence of any other portrait photographer using this mode of transport, although there may well have been some.

Doremus' Mississippi Views Photograph Gallery, c.1870s

J.P. Doremus was a portrait photographer from Patterson, New Jersey, who in 1874 constructed a floating photographic studio which he used to travel down the Mississippi:
... from St Paul, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico photographing steamboats, waterfronts, bridges, lumberyards, log rafts, and river towns. Doremus would then convert these images to stereo card views which he described in a short work entitled "Floating Down the Mississippi" (1877).
While there are plenty of extant stereoviews by Doremus, there is no evidence that he took any portraits in this studio. Perhaps Webster's studio was one of a kind.

I'm very grateful to Jana Last for the opportunity to use these photographs from her private collection. Thanks also to Dick Sheaff for the use of one of his fine images. You may or may not find similar modes of water transport in this week's Sepia Saturday contributions, but I can guarantee that there will be plenty of interesting images.

Post Script 31 March 2014

Mike Brubaker has very kindly drawn my attention to a collection of photographs of Photo Studio Boats on the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library web site, which demonstrates that Mr Webster's venture was not the only one of its kind. From this page, I extracted details of the following:
- Williams Photo Boat, Sistersville, West Virginia, 1896-1900, and on the Muskingum River, Marietta, Washington County
- H.O. Schroeter's Floating Photo Studio, Green River, Kentucky, 1900
- Doremus Photo Gallery No.1 named Success and No. 2 named Flora
- Thornton Barrette's Photograph Boat, Russell, Ky., 1899-1900
- Little Gem Floating Pictures, unknown location and date
- Eureka Photo, unknown location and date
Clearly more research can be done on this topic.


Last, Jana (2014) The F. E. Webster Dental and Photo Boats, Jana's Genealogy and Family History Blog, 3 February 2014.

J.P. Doremus, on the Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium web site.

Stereoviews by J.B. Doremus, from George Eastman House.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Sepia Saturday 220: Making Calotypes in the Desert

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Marilyn Brindley

Given this week's Sepia Saturday photo prompt of a statue, I've decided to feature the work of an amateur photographer who pioneered the use of the calotype photographic process to illustrate travel. During the 1840s most photographic views of landscapes were made using the daguerreotype process introduced and rapidly popularised by Louis Daguerre and others. Daguerreotypes produced landscapes with wonderfully fine detail, but the only way that such one off photographs could be replicated for publication was to transform them into engravings.

Camera style used for calotypes, c.1845

However the calotype process, patented by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1841, had a significant advantage in that multiple prints could be produced from a single paper negative. In addition, the ability to prepare several days' worth of negative paper in advance considerably lightened the load of equipment that a photographer had to carry.

Maxime Du Camp (1822-1894)

Maxime Du Camp, a French writer of independent means, learned the calotype process from the innovative and influential Gustave Le Gray in 1848, and late the following year accompanied his friend Gustave Flaubert on a tour of the "Orient." His official mission from the Ministry of Public Education was ostensibly to record the details of monuments and their inscriptions.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Westernmost Colossus of the Temple of Re, Abu Simbel
Salted paper print from paper negative by Maxime Du Camp, 1849-1850
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc # 2005.100.376.149

Both DuCamp and Flaubert wrote journals of their experiences, and excerpts have been used in Steegmuller's Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour. Stegmuller has also published a collection of Flaubert's letters, a portion of which can be read online, and from which I took the following extracts about DuCamp and his photographic exploits.

Cairo, Saturday night, 10 o'clock. December 1, 1849.
Behind the partition I hear the young Maxime, preparing solutions for his negatives.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Vue du grand Sphinx et de la grande pyramide de Menkazeh (Mycerinus)
Salted paper print from paper negative by Maxime Du Camp, Dec 1849
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc # 2005.100.376.149

Max's days are entirely absorbed and consumed by photography. He is doing well, but grows desperate whenever he spoils a picture or finds that a plate has been badly washed. Really, if doesn't take things easier he'll crack up. But he has been getting some superb results, and in consequence his spirits have been better the last few days. The day before yesterday a kicking mule almost smashed the entire equipment.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Intérieur du Temple de Khons, à Karnac, Thèbes
Salted paper print from paper negative by Maxime Du Camp, 1849-1850
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc # 2005.100.376.20

I have seen Thebes: it is very beautiful. We arrived one night at nine, in brilliant moonlight that flooded the columns. Dogs were barking, the great white ruins looked like ghosts, and the moon on the horizon, completely round and seeming to touch the earth, appeared to be motionless, resting there deliberately. Karnak gave us the impression of a life of giants.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Colosse restauré d' Aménophis III, à Thèbes
(Statue vocale ou Colosse de Memnon)
Salted paper print from paper negative by Maxime Du Camp, 1849
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc # 2005.100.376.76

I spent a night at the feet of the colossus of Memnon, devoured by mosquitoes. The old scoundrel has a good face and is covered with graffiti. Graffiti and bird-droppings are the only two things in the ruins of Egypt that give any indication of life.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
"Coiffure des Femmes de Nazareth," Palestine
Salted paper print from paper negative by Maxime Du Camp, 1850
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc # 2000.118

After a couple of months in Egypt they moved in to Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, where DuCamp's output was unfortunately far less prolific. Upon his return to France later that year he showed his prints to Blanquart-Everard, who published 125 of them in an elegant edition of approximately 200 leather-bound copies entitled Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie, probably the world's first photographic travel book, as well as individual prints.

The artistry in Ducamp's calotypes is not held in particularly high regard:
Ducamp's photographs ... reflect his working purpose and follow the pattern of earlier documetary etchings and lithographs ... (He) moves from a distant overall view to an closer one, at times honing in on a detail or two, always positoning his subject in the center of the frame. The overall effect is straightforward and banal. The poor quality of photographs printed by DuCamp himself also indicate his lack of concern for aesthetics. The one original aspect of his work is his use of a Nubian man, ostensibly as a measure of scale, but who is often almost invisible, posed in odd nooks and crannies of the ancienty tombs and temples.
Hannavy, 2008

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
"Vue générale des ruines de Baâlbek, prise à l'Est," Lebanon
Salted paper print from paper negative by Maxime Du Camp, Sep 1850
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc # 2005.100.376.155

On the other hand his pioneering status is widely respected. Many photographers would follow in his footsteps to the Middle East, among them the far more well known Francis Frith, Felix Bonfils, Antonio Beato, and even his former mentor Gustave Le Gray, but DuCamp was among the first, showing what was possible with the crude technology available at the time.

Image © 1997 Brett Payne
Eastern Facade of the Temple of the Sun, Baalbek, Lebanon
Kodachrome positive transparency, taken 25 May 1997
Photo Copyright © 1997 Brett Payne

From my own experiences of trying to photograph monuments in the desert (see image above), managing the harsh sunlight is very tricky, and I have the greatest of admiration for DuCamp's efforts with rudimentary equipment under very difficult conditions.


Ballerini, Julia (2008) DuCamp, Maxime (1822-1894) French photographer and writer,in Encyclopedia of nineteenth-century photography: A-I, index, Volume 1, John Hannavy (ed.), Taylor & Francis, on Google Books.

Meltzer, Steve (2012) The birth of travel photography: Du Camp and Flaubert’s 1849 trip to Egypt, North Africa and the Middle East, on Imaging Resource, 30 October 2012.

Rosenblum, Naomi (1984) A World History of Photography, New York: Abbeville Press.

Stegmuller, Francis (1972) Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour, Boston: Little Brown.

Stegmuller, Francis (ed.) (1979) The Letters of Gustave Flaubert, 1830-1857, Volume 1, on Google Books.

Maxime Du Camp, Wikipedia article
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