Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bringing the awesomeness of ancient Egypt to the masses

With their combination of aesthetics and technical skill, Francis Frith's images of Egypt and Palestine—both large-format and stereoscopic— were among the most celebrated of the 19th century. When he was only in his 30s, Frith began a series of trips to the area which lasted from 1857 until 1860, recording in his memoirs that he wished to "track the Sun back to his rising, and see the lands upon which his beams first fell." As Douglas Nickel writes in Francis Frith in Egypt and Palestine: A Victorian Photographer Abroad,
A significant portion of his output is "staged" in that Frith directed members of his expeditions to stand or rest in specific locations within the picture frame, and thus provide spatial reference points to articulate the scale of subjects. In photographing open desert around the pyramids, for example, he typically deployed two or three groups of figures, corresponding compositionally to the foreground and middle-ground registers of conventional landscape painting. At a basic level, such figures suggest the scale of the vast expanses that surround these structures, while introducing a human element, a contrast to the sterile and inhospitable environment. As with ... traditional landscape painting, the human presence in Frith's plates invites viewers to imagine themselves bodily situated in the same space.
You can see from these examples why Frith was such a sensation in his day, and why his views of these ancient marvels are found in many renowned photography collections. This was the first Europe had seen of the remnants of Egyptian civilization besides the sketches Napoleon’s archaeologists made in 1798.


  1. Thank you for another interesting, informative post. I'm taking my copy of Hieroglyph Detective with me when I finally make the trek to Egypt. It's one of those things you have to do before..well, you know.

  2. Don't forget to take an Agatha Christie ... Murder on the Nile? I listened to an audio course from the Learning Company on this history of Egypt, which was fantastic. I've amassed quite a collection of books on its arts, tombs, & monuments ... a source of endless fascination. To view it in person would really be something.

  3. I am in love with any anything regarding Ancient Egypt. I find it so interesting the artistry of the time is amazing considering the tools they had to work with it. I would love to visit one day!!!

  4. Take a copy of Obelisk Seven for some fascinating facts about Egypt, the obelisks, who made them, who moved them, how they moved them and why.

    We loved writing it after our trip to Egypt!