Category Archives: Historical Photograph Submission


The Getty Research Institute: Felix Bonfils

The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles acquired the Ken and Jenny Jacobsen Orientalist Photograph Collection in 2008, which can be accessed here. The addition of this collection brought “exceptionally strong holdings” of “Orientalist” photography to the research institute and its collections.

The holdings include approximately 4,500 images of photographs taken by Western photographers traveling in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). As such, this collection represents a genre of work that pictured the MENA region for the enjoyment and benefit of western viewers. We know, from Edward Said’s 1978 publication Orientalism that the work of these artists was complicit within Western imperialist constructions of culture within the MENA region as subordinate to Europe.

The Getty Research Institute makes the photographs available to on-site researchers, and a number, including those of Felix Bonfils, available online through digital imaging. The online Bonfils images include those taken in Palestine.

“Petrie’s Photographs of Egypt: Landscape, Monuments, People” from the Griffith Institute Archive


The Griffith Institute, Oxford University’s center for Egyptology, has placed several of its digitized archives online, including a collection of the photographs and journals of the British archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1852-1942).  The Griffith Institute houses a collection of eight albums of photographs associated with Petrie and his late-19th century excavations in Egypt.  The eighth and last of these albums, containing 249 photographic images taken between 1886-1990 of the architecture, artifacts, geography, etc. of ancient Egyptian sites, has been digitized and can be accessed via the link above.  Documentation for each photograph provides the year the photograph was taken, the name of the site, a copy of the album’s original text caption for a given photograph, technical description of the physical properties of the photograph itself, and additional commentary provided by the Griffith Institute.  Beyond the value of the photographs themselves, the eighth Petrie album is a notable historical object in its own right.

matilde: BNF – Bonfils period albums digitized

Bibliothèque Nationale de France,  3 period albums by Bonfils

As  part of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) ongoing digitization project, 3 period albums with photographs of archeological sites taken by Bonfils and others are accessible online.
Notably they are:  Views of Athens, an 1874 collection of 35 photographs depicting the Acropolis and the city of Athens;
the Views of Greece, Egypt, Palestine and Syria, 1870 ca, an album of 74 albumen prints printed from glass negatives;
and the Souvenirs d’Orient, an 1878 album of pittoresque views of sites and ruins of Syria and Middle East.  This latter is most interesting because it contains historico-archeological descriptions.

Overall, the interest of these albums is that we can get an idea of how these images circulated in carefully assembled albums to cater for the Western taste for the pittoresque East.

The American University of Beirut Library, Lebanon

The American University of Beirut Library, Lebanon

Historical Photographs can be accessed from the Library’s Archives and Special Collections section. Two photo archives are available online:

E.W. Blatchford Collection of Photographs
Photos can be assessed either through thumbnails or through a list based on location covering mainly the Middle East and a few on Europe, with subcategories of countries or cities. There are 801 albumen prints, dating from ca. 1880-1900. These photographs were donated by the family who had purchased them as souvenirs during their travels.

Moore Collection of Photographs
Photos can be accessed either through thumbnails or an index detailing the historical photographs. There are 106 photos,, dating from 1892-1902. They are of the AUB and the surrounding area including natural habitats, architecture and historical monuments in Lebanon and Syria. The negatives had been left behind by Dr. Moore, a faculty member who departed because of the Second World War. When the glass plate negatives were discovered in the 1960s, they were clean and repaired.


Matson (G. Eric and Edith) Photograph Collection in the Library of Congress

The G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection is a large source of historical images of the Middle East. The majority of the images depict Palestine (present day Israel and the West Bank) from 1898 to 1946. Over 1,000 photographic prints and eleven albums are part of this collection. Many of them are by the American Colony Photo Department and its successor firm, the Matson Photo Service. The American Colony was a utopian Christian sect formed by religious pilgrims who emigrated to Jerusalem from the United States and Sweden. The history of the Colony can be retraced thanks to the photography collection.

The Griffith Institute Archives

Established as a center of Egyptology at the University of Oxford, the Griffith Institute has digitized many of the photographs in its archives. Most of these are 19th century photographs of Egypt. The photographs can be accessed through a few different collections, including: a group of 19th Century ‘studio’ photographs of Egypt (Egyptian Mirage); 19th Century photographs of the Levant (Levantine Mirage); and excavation photographs by Harry Burton. There are several hundred digitized photographs in total. Although the organization of the collections onto separate websites is somewhat confusing, and each site is very basic and clunky, the quality of the reproductions is high, and each photograph is well-labeled with date, place, and subject information. Photographs are also downloadable for free and without watermarks. Each collection is available to view as an image gallery of thumbnails, or by a list of photographers, which are organized alphabetically.


Felix Bonfils at the Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution has eighty six photographs by Felix Bonfils. The photos are helpful as they exhibit architecture, individuals in the Middle East during varying daily activities, and landscape. The page gives a brief introduction about Felix Bonfils and his family’s studio, when expanded. The information of each photo provides a very short summary of the photo along with what is  the culture of the photo, for example Palestinian Arab, or Egyptian.  This website is helpful in accessing photos without restrictions, as well as using the photos to see architecture and culture of the Middle East during the 1860s-1870’s. The photos here are open for public use and download. When the photograph information is expanded the details for siting the source is shown, as well as the size of the image . The photos are in the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, however, photographs by  Bonfils can be found by using the link attached here, which will lead directly to his pictures.

Felix Bonfils Photographs

The British Library- Endangered Archives- The Fouad Debbas Collection (Photographs from Maison Bonfils)

The British Library- Endangered Archives- The Fouad Debbas Collection- Photographs from Maison Bonfils- Beirut, Lebanon Project.  

A project undertaken by the British Library as part of its Endangered Archives initiative, a collection of 3,000 photographs dating from 1867-1910 were digitized and reassessed in order to preserve the Bonfils efforts to memorialize the Middle East. The Fouad Debbas private collection encompasses albums, portfolios, glass plates, stereos, and cabinet cards produced in the Maison Bonfils. It is recognized as one of the few preserved collections produced in Beirut in the last Ottoman period. As a result of a lack of proper storage and database facilities, the project was initiated to at least preserve the images in a digital space. The 3,000 photographs range from portraits, landscapes, monuments and daily life. They explicitly depict a romanticized and orientalist perspective of the 19th century Middle East, such as in Turkey, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Smyrna and Greece. This online initiative to preserve the Bonfils photographs from the Fouad Debbas Collection is beneficial to the present and future study of the Middle East in a historical context. The digitized photographs are easy to access with the opportunity to zoom in at a high quality and see the original notes (descriptions) made at the bottom of the pictures.

New York Public Library Digital Gallery

The New York Public Library Digital Gallery provides an open access digital collection that has over 800,000 digitized images. It contains 104 items by Felix Bonfils, 537 items by American Colony, 618 items on the topic Middle East and 8,201 items on the topic of Egypt. The website is easy to navigate and search. It also contains clear details on the items presented. This site can be accessed from clicking on the title or the link below:

Gertrude Bell Archive

The Gertrude Bell Archive at Newcastle University contains the papers, publications and more than 7,000 photographs from the work of this respected turn-of-the-twentieth-century archaeologist, administrator and spy.  High resolution copies of the photographic images in the archive, which are available for a fee,  span the period of Bell’s life and work between 1899 and 1914.  Gertrude Bell (British, 1868 – 1926) traveled throughout Asia Minor, the Middle East, Egypt, and South and Southeast Asia.  Though a controversial figure due to her contribution to British imperial policy in the Middle East (see British Mandate in Mesopotamia), including the establishment of the modern borders in the region, her extensive travels, archaeological work and photographs provide period documentation of many important sites.   She was an honorary director of antiquities in Iraq and founded the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.  A film, Queen of the Desert, on the life of Gertrude Bell –  directed by Werner Herzog and starring Nicole Kidman –  is due out in 2015.