Saharan Visions: Early Images of the Orient

Exhibited and Sold By
Contemporary Works / Vintage Works, Ltd.

258 Inverness Circle
Chalfont, Pennsylvania   18914   USA

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By Alex Novak
Francis Frith, The Temple of Komumboo
Francis Frith, The Temple of Komumboo

Beginning on the western coast of Africa and extending across the size of the US, the Saharan desert and its challenges are legend. With a culture that is older than any other, the area became a magnet for young Victorian men (and women). Where the tourist went, so did the photographer.

Beginning in the early 1840s with daguerreotypists Jules Itier and Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, image-makers took on the challenges of the Sahara--with its sand, heat and drying wind--to bring back images of this mysterious land and its people.

Among the earliest photographers were those who found that paper negatives traveled better under the harsh conditions, although a few brave souls, such as Felix Jacques Antoine Moulin, lugged literally tons of glass plates and paraphernalia around northern Africa and later Gustave Le Gray also worked in his preferred medium, the glass plate, despite the daunting conditions.

The list of these early pioneers, who worked primarily with paper negatives, now reads like a Who's Who of early photography. The French photographers who worked in the Saharan regions included Auguste Salzmann, Louis De Clercq, E. Benecke, Felix Teynard, Maxime Du Camp, Gustave de Beaucorps, Pierre Tremaux, Jules Deblet, Theodule Deveria, Henri Sauvaire, and--a bit later--the master Gustave Le Gray, who worked with glass plates. The English had Francis Frith (glass), Frank Mason Good (glass), Rev. Calvert Jones (paper), James Graham (paper) and Robert Murray (paper). America's sole representative was John Buckley Greene (paper). The Germans had Wilhelm Hammerschmidt, who came in the late 1850s and worked with glass plates. And from Malta came Anton Schranz with both paper and glass plates.

We offer a sample of the best images from some of these early pioneers.