This was seen by Oppenheim

…while he was living in Cairo, just a few years before the following pictures were taken. Even the tent below is made of a similar pattern to the one he ordered in Cairo for his expedition in Tell Halaf. Perhaps from the same masters.

Two men make tents

The photos were made by Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (1863-1931) in the 1920s. Their themes follow the standard models of the Egyptian Grand Tour of the period: scenes in the bazaar and on the streets of Cairo, the pyramids and the Egyptian monuments along the Nile up to the first cataract in Aswan, dancers and bejeweled women.

Two sais stand in front of the entrance of the French Legation

These images, however, are more than the usual schematic and often preset orientalizing scenes of the period. Courtellemont, who grew up in Algeria, regarded the Arab people for more than an exotic photo subject, and he even converted to Islam in 1894.

Two students of Mecca stand at the Mosque of el-Azhar (The number above the door is not 76, but just 6 written twice, both in Eastern and European Arabic numbers)

It is true that at the same time the compositions try to convey the “magic Orient” that the European audience was accustomed to and demanded. No wonder. The images of Courtellemont were intended primarily for public presentations. In 1911 he opened in Paris the “Palais de l’autochromie”, which was an exhibition room, a studio, a laboratory, and an auditorium for 250 persons in one. Here Courtellemont delivered his extremely popular presentations accompanied with his color glass slides made during his long journeys from Spain through the whole Islamic world to India and China.

Winders of silk at the Tombs of the Caliphs

The technique of the color glass slide or autochrome was patented by the Lumière brothers in 1904, and in 1907 they started to produce and market their own autochrome glass plates. The technique consists in covering one side of the glass with an even mixture of potato starch grains previously dyed red-orange, green and blue-violet. This layer was fixed with varnish, and further covered by a light-sensitive emulsion. The plate was put into the camera with the bare side facing the light, so the rays of various colors could penetrate to the emulsion only through the starch grains of the same color.

A man sits nex to his store for the Egyptian version of a washtub

Since the reproduction of autochrome glass slides on paper remained very incomplete over a long period, the technique was primarily used for the purpose of slide show presentations, which at that time – as we have seen earlier – were very popular until the spreading of the movies. In America they were extensively used by the National Geographic Society, and after the end of the war Courtellemont worked regularly for them as well. This Egyptian series, which he also made on the commission of the National Geographic and which was preserved in their collection, was published on the Retroscope blog some weeks ago.

An Egyptian street merchant sells hats

A view of a tower in Cairo

A view of the first Nile cataract at Aswan

A portrait of a young Nubian girl

7 comentarios:


Beautiful and interesting post.

Effe dijo...

a proposito delle storie che si possono leggere nelle rughe e negli occhi di persone così lontane da noi ma rese vicine come in queste ottime foto, segnalo che sul blog Retronaut da te linkato c'è una selezione di foto degli anni '20 scattate negli uffici della polizia di Sidney subito dopo l'arresto dei personaggi ritratti:
C'è un'umanità dolente, in quelle fotografie, ci sono sguardi a volte sfrontati, a volte smarriti.
Nei commenti a quel post ci sono link ad altri siti con foto e storie simili.

Effe dijo...

Nell’archivio fotografico dell’ Historic Houses Trust si trovano anche le storie giudiziarie dei soggetti ritratti, come ad esempio in questa foto:

(mi scuso per essere andato fuori tema, ma tutte le storie del mondo sono legate tra di loro)

Studiolum dijo...

Sono delle foto choccanti. Veramente, un dolore e una paura, a volte quasi di animali, in quegli occhi. Ti ricordi le foto degli arrestati in Messico degli Casasolas?

Wang Wei ha recentemente scritto un bell’essay su quelle storie dell’Historic Houses Trust. Fra poco lo traduco e lo pubblichiamo qui a Río Wang.

Effe dijo...

Ricordo quelle foto, e hanno dei tratti in comune conme le immagini di Sidney. Il dolore e la paura conoscono una lingua sola.
Leggerò con grande piacere l'essay, ringrazio in anticipo per l'impegno e la generosità tua e di Wang Wei.

walter dijo...

There was a recent exhibition in Singapore called "Silent Coercion". "The camera, like other newly invented technological devices at the time, was quickly used as an important tool for propagating colonial values and for capturing colonial practices in print. It played a silent but crucial role in the process of empire building." It was about the role of the Dutch in Sumatra, but has wider implications.

Thanks for these fine posts and comments. Much to reflect on.

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you, Walter. Yes, this is an important and often neglected aspect of early photography. It would be very useful if you could write about the exposition, highlighting this aspect.