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MAXIME DU CAMP (1822-1894)

MAXIME DU CAMP (1822-1894)

MAXIME DU CAMP (1822-1894)
gypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie, dessins photographique recueillis pendant les annes 1849, 1850 et 1851, accompagns d'un texte explicatif et prcds d'une introduction par Maxime Du Camp, charg d'une mission archeologique en Orient par le Ministre de l'Instruction Publique.
Paris: Gide et J. Baudry, Editeurs, 1852. 124 of the 125 salt prints from wet paper negatives (Blanquard-Evrard Process), mounted one to a page, lacking Plate 65. Each with printed title, plate number, photographer's, publisher's and printer's credit on the mount. Title, locale and plate number printed on the tissue guards. Each approximately 6 x 8in. (15.9 x 21.6cm.) or the reverse. Lacking covers, spine intact, in contemporary boards with title and the Miller-Plummer Collection credit in gilt lettering on the spine. (2)
Rochester, New York, International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Particulars: Selections from the Miller-Plummer Collection of Photography, 1983, cat. no. 126, p. 38.
See also: Jammes and Janis, The Art of the French Calotype, fig. 3, p. 6; fig. 50, p. 71; plate XLVI; and Hambourg, Apraxine, et al., The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection, pl. 65, cat. no. 83, pp. 84 and 295; no. 84, p. 296.
Particulars: Selections from the Miller-Plummer Collection of Photography, Rochester, New York, International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Wellesley, MA, Wellesley College Museum, 10 June 1983 - 25 March 1984.

Lot Essay

You ask me whether the Orient is up to what I imagined it to be. Yes it is; and more than that, it extends far beyond the narrow idea I had of it. I have found, clearly delineated, everything that was hazy in my mind. Facts have taken the place of supposition. - Gustave Flaubert, 1850
(Steegmuller, Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour, p. 75)

Maxime Du Camp's monumental survey, gypt, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie was the first of its kind - a photographically illustrated album of an excursion into the East - to be published in France. At a time and in a place where photographs were revolutionizing the art of publishing, Du Camp's tome inaugerated three very active decades of photography's romance with Orientalism. The motivation for Du Camp's voyage to the world of ancient ruins and the Holy Lands can been traced back to the influence Victor Hugo's "Les Orientales" had on Du Camp in his younger years (see: Howe, Excursions Along the Nile, p. 26). This was not his first work on the area however. His first voyage East in 1844-45 produced a written journal, Souvenirs et paysages d'Orient published in 1848 (Jammes and Janis, Art of French Calotype, p. 172).

Du Camp was eager to travel again and to take advantage of government commissions from the Ministry of Public Instruction. Having failed at documenting his previous trip as a draftsman, he acquired photographic skills by studying with Gustave Le Gray (ibid). In 1849 he set off but he was not alone, accompanied by his good friend Gustave Flaubert. With Flaubert in tow, Du Camp sought the regions and scenes that would recall the Romantic painters that had preceded them, such as Delacroix and Chassriau, creating documents of extraordinary beauty and exoticism. As Robert Sobieszek points out in French Primitive Photography, "What engraved or etched views of various countries could provide by way of information and delectation, the photographic print could do as well, if not better, at times. The decade of the fifties witnessed an incredible array of photographic orientalism. Commencing with Du Camp's Egypt, Nubia, Palestine, Syria in 1852... Some of Du Camp's general views could compare favorably pictorially with any of [Prosper] Marilhat's oriental scenes such as his Oriental Caranvanserai (1840's) presently in the Philadelphia Museum of Art." (exhibition catalogue, n.p.)

Du Camp executed some 214 paper negatives, adopting Blanquart-Evrard's wet process of paper negatives after Le Gray's waxed paper negatives initially failed him (Howe, p. 27). From this selection the impresario from Lille, Louis Dsir Blanquart-Evrard, produced 125 plates for a two volume album published by the house Gide et J. Baudry with 55 pages of text by Du Camp. The publication earned him the Legion of Honor in 1851 which did not pass without observation from his writer friend. "Flaubert commented on the event with characteristic cynicism, addressed as much to Du Camp as to the state of politics at the beginning of the Second Empire. These are the times, he sneered, when they exile poets and decorate photographers." (Jammes and Janis, p. 174)

Not all observers were so disdainful however. Francis Wey, an author, and critic for La Lumiere, was deeply affected by the presentation. He wrote, "To penetrate this album is to take a voyage. The truth overcomes you, shocks and touches your emotions in so many ways that soon you forget the print. Objects are assimilated by the imagination, and one catches oneself dreaming. What is this country, after all, but a vision, a mute tableau, an inert image of the past?" (loc. cit.)
Du Camp and Flaubert traveled together for three years not only through Egypt and the Middle East but Greece, Constantinople and Italy as well. Du Camp's photographic legacy, oddly enough, begins and ends with this publication. "In Beirut at the conclusion of his journey and after months of struggling with camera and chemical solutions, Du Camp traded his photographic equipment for several yards of embroidered fabric with which to decorate an Oriental bed in his Paris apartment. He never picked up a camera again." (Howe, p. 27)

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