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Historic Photographs

The World in Focus

Photography's ability to provide accurate images of far-off lands was swiftly appreciated as one of its greatest assets: within months of the public announcement of the daguerreotype process in 1839, French photographers were active as far afield as Greece, Russia and Egypt, providing images later to be reproduced as lithographs and engravings in published works. With the growth of photography on paper, multiple copies of an image could be produced with ease, encouraging the publication of photographically-illustrated books, with original prints pasted in alongside the text. Whether intended as contributions to scholarly research or for a more general market of armchair travellers, such works were often lavishly produced, generally in small and consequently expensive editions. The emergence of a broader market for photography in the 1860s, however, heralded the heyday of large commercial studios whose output was primarily directed towards the demands of an expanding tourist industry. Responding to the increasing mobility of the European middle classes, photographers such as Francis Frith in England, Adolphe Braun in France and Alinari Fratelli in Italy operated large photographic concerns geared to the bulk production of scenic views. Further afield, the camera was soon enlisted to document the little-known landscapes and peoples of newly-acquired territories in an era of unprecedented colonial expansion. This photographic record of the nineteenth-century world, created with varied motives and for differing markets, survives as a historical record of unique documentary and artistic value.

Maxime Du Camp in Egypt, 1849

Second Pylon of the Great Temple of Isis at Phil Enlarged image
Second Pylon of the Great Temple of Isis at Philae
Maxime du Camp, Second Pylon of the Great Temple of Isis at Philae, 1849
Salted paper print from a paper negative

A young man of independent means, Du Camp took up photography in 1849 in preparation for his second journey to North Africa. With official backing from the French Government, and travelling in the company of the novelist Gustave Flaubert, Du Camp returned with over 200 paper negatives of the antiquities of Egypt and the Near East. 125 of these were published in his Égypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie. Dessins photographiques recueillis pendant les années 1849, 1850 et 1851 (Paris, 1852). The illustrations were produced at the photographic printing works of Louis-Désiré Blanquard-Évrard at Lille and their distinctive cool neutral tones are due to the prints being chemically developed rather than merely printed-out in sunlight. Distinguished as it was, Du Camp's photographic career was short-lived. After the completion of his magisterial survey of the antiquities of the Near East, he abandoned photography entirely in favour of literary pursuits.

Francis Frith in Egypt, 1857.

View of Girgeh, Upper Egypt Enlarged image
View of Girgeh, Upper Egypt
647.c.6 vol. 1
Francis Frith, View of Girgeh, Upper Egypt, 1857
Albumen print

Another photographer attracted to the antiquities of Egypt was Francis Frith, who between 1857 and 1860 made three trips to the Near East. The results of these travels were published in a series of books illustrated with original photographs, ranging from small stereoscopic views to mammoth prints measuring 20 x 16 inches. This view appears in his Egypt and Palestine Photographed and Described (2 vols., London, 1858-9). Following the success of these publications, Frith went on to publish numerous works illustrated with topographical views of England and Europe. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries his studio became one of the largest photographic businesses in England.

Adolphe Braun in Switzerland, 1860s

The Gabelhorn with the Schwarz-See Enlarged image
The Gabelhorn with the Schwarz-See
Maps 184.s.1 (7)
Adolphe Braun, The Gabelhorn with the Schwarz-See, near Zermatt, 1860s
Albumen print

After an early career as a textile designer, Braun became a widely praised amateur photographer in the mid-1850s. By the end of that decade he had become an established commercial producer of European landscape views, concentrating on popular tourist routes and destinations, especially in Switzerland. His studio at Dornach in Alsace employed a large team of photographers and by the end of the 1860s the firm was among the most successful suppliers of European topographical photographs, with a catalogue listing several thousand views, ranging from the stereoscopic to large format panoramas. The firm also specialised in photographic reproductions of artworks from European museums

Charles Clifford in Spain, c.1861.

View of the Castello de Montjuix, Barcelona, Enlarged image
View of the Castello de Montjuix, Barcelona
1785.c.1 (87)
Charles Clifford, View of the Castello de Montjuix, Barcelona, c. 1861
Albumen print

Although a British subject, Charles Clifford is considered among the finest photographers in nineteenth-century Spain, where he spent most of his career. Settling in Madrid in the early 1850s, Clifford became court photographer to Isabella II and accompanied the Queen on a number of royal tours within the country. Clifford specialised in the photography of architectural subjects and industrial projects and his work is particularly notable for his technical mastery of the large format view, using both paper and glass negatives. His wife Jane was also a skilled photographer.

Henry Moulton in Peru, c.1863

The Municipality Building, Lima, Peru Enlarged image
The Municipality Building, Lima, Peru
1784.a.14 (10)
Henry Moulton, The Municipality Building, Lima, Peru c. 1863
Albumen print

This view is one of 70 original photographs pasted into the published work, Rays of sunlight from South America, published in Washington in about 1865. Although the famous Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner is credited in the title, he appears to have been responsible only for the printing, the actual photographs being the work of Henry Moulton, about whom little is known. As well as an extensive series of architectural views of Lima, there are numerous photographs of the Chincha Islands, famous for the production of guano, greatly in demand as fertiliser at this period. The preponderance of this subject is clearly linked to contemporary interest in the islands after their seizure by the Spanish in 1864, an occupation that led to the so-called 'Guano War' of 1865-66 between Spain and Peru and Chile.

John Thomson in Cambodia, 1866.

 The Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom Enlarged image
 The Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom
Photo 983 (24)
John Thomson, The Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom, 1866
Albumen print

The Edinburgh-born photographer John Thomson first set up a commercial studio in Singapore in 1862 and in the following years travelled extensively in the Malayan peninsula. In 1866 he made an arduous four-month trip from Thailand to Cambodia, finally reaching the great temple complex of Angkor, where he took the first recorded photographs of the site. On his return to England, Thomson published 16 of these photographs as original prints pasted into his account of the temples, The Antiquities of Cambodia (Edinburgh, 1867). Returning once more to the Far East, Thomson embarked on a series of journeys through China and consolidated his reputation both as a traveller and photographer with the publication of his four-volume work, Illustrations of China and its people (London, 1874).

Wilhelm Burger in Japan, 1869.

Fort Susaki at Yedo [Tokyo] Enlarged image
Fort Susaki at Yedo [Tokyo]
Maps 8.d.24 (19)
Wilhelm Burger, Fort Susaki at Yedo [Tokyo], 1869
Albumen print

Burger was a teacher of photography at Vienna University when he was appointed official photographer to the Austrian East Asian Expedition of 1868-70, which set out to strengthen diplomatic and commercial links between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the countries of the Far East. This view is part of the important photographic record made during the mission, illustrating the scenery, peoples and architecture of Thailand, Japan and China. Burger later worked as official photographer on further expeditions to the Arctic (1872), Samothrace (1876) and Asia Minor (1881).

Alinari Fratelli in Italy, c.1880.

The Old Market, Florence, Enlarged image
The Old Market, Florence,
Add. MS 74791 f.49
Alinari Brothers, The Old Market, Florence, 1880s
Albumen print

In Italy, the most successful commercial studio in the second half of the nineteenth century was established in Florence in 1854 by the brothers Giuseppe and Leopoldo Alinari. Like the Braun studio in France, Alinari produced topographical and architectural views as well as reproductions of works of art, catering to the expanding tourist market of the late nineteenth century. In 1871, a branch of the studio was opened in Rome and by 1912 the Alinari catalogue ran to 463 pages. While the majority of this historical archive no longer exists in the form of the original negatives, the studio survives to the present day.

Further pages from the project:

Photographic Processes Photographic Processes
The world in focus The World in Focus
Exploration and Archaeology Exploration and Archaeology
The image of war The Image of War
Making the modern world Making the Modern World
In the public eye In the Public Eye

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Discover more:
Photographic Processes
The World in Focus
Exploration and Archaeology
The Image of War
Making of the Modern World
In the Public Eye


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