With photography still in its infancy in the middle of the 19th century, French writer and photographer Maxime Du Camp embarked on a two-year mission to Egypt and the Near East to make a photographic survey of the monuments and sites that were well documented in writings of his fellow traveler, Gustave Flaubert. After an initial stay in Cairo, the two friends hired a boat to take them up the Nile as far as the second cataract, after which they descended the river at leisure, exploring the archaeological sites along its banks.
Du Camp had only just learned the craft of photography from Gustave Le Gray shortly before his departure for Egypt. But by the time he came to Abu Simbel in March 1850 to explore the rock-cut temples built for pharaoh Ramesses II (r. 1279-1213 B.C.), Du Camp was thoroughly at ease with the medium. “Egypt, Nubia, Palestine and Syria, Photographic Pictures collected During the Years 1849, 1850 and 1851” was published in 1852 and contained 125 photographs. It brought its creators instant fame.
170 years after what many consider the birth of travel photography, a collection of 59 salt prints and the original wrappers from various parts are being offered on the 53rd Antiquarian Auctions online auction. Manager Paul Mills set the price to £15,000 ($20,000), but tells The Daily Mail it’s possible that bidding goes much higher, as he has seen similar individual prints in the past go for more than £760 ($1,000) a piece. The auction ends on the 1st of September, at 4:30 PM GMT (12:30 PM ET).
Du Camp spent hours in the heat of the desert with his wooden Calotype camera and tripod, before using the jugs of chemicals he needed to bring the images to life.
The pictures have preserved their cold dark grey color to this day but most of the prints are dark and lacking in contrast. This is due to the “sel d’or” toning which weakened the strength of the prints, necessitating a considerable over-exposure which was difficult to judge.
These pictures allow you to look into the past and see the remarkable changes that have occurred. At that point, photography was a relatively new invention, so to venture into that desert heat for hours and to take some of the best photos ever, was a remarkable achievement.
[Inspiration and quotes via The Daily Mail.]