Excerpt

Fig. VII.8.   John B. Greene.  Medinet-Habu,
inscriptions in second court.  1854.
Salt print from calotype negative.  23.4 cm. x 30.1 cm.
Image copyright © Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY.
Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 1989.

CHAPTER 7
Records of Exploration:
Souvenirs and Studies


PHOTOGRAPHIC RECORDS of the historic monuments of Europe, the Near East and Asia had been sought and successfully retained by individuals using the daguerreotype method starting within weeks of its first public demonstrations. Although some of these images were copied to create lithographic illustrations for publications such as the French folio Excursions daguerriennes (1840–43), most early plates were retained by their creators as keepsakes of the voyages and enjoyed only by a close circle of friends and family members. When Henry Talbot and the operators at the Reading Establishment began in the mid–1840s to instruct travelers such as George Bridges and Calvert Jones in the craft of using the calotype to collect views, a similar use for the photographs was intended, but with the potential that the images could be duplicated many times for a wider distribution.2 Great was the desire to see, and bring back, likenesses of great artifacts and structures that signified the rise of civilization and substantial human accomplishments. Like drawings in prior generations, the camera was seen as an aid in retaining the dynamics of the places encountered as well as for collecting elements of the visitors’ educational experiences.

In the preface of the early manual, Photogenic Manipulation (1845), George Fisher echoed this insight when he wrote:
All men of reading desire to possess faithful representations of the monuments of antiquity—the Pyramids of Gizeh, the palaces or the temples of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Each and all of these we are now enabled to preserve in the strictest fidelity. Every stone will tell its own tale: and as the mind of the poet shines forever from his productions, so the very genius, the very spirit of the place, may now be impressed by the subtle fingers of light upon tablets of metal or sheets of paper, to speak to future ages as they speak to us.

This notion of preserving the physical aspects—and even the spiritual components—of historic elements was first explored closer to home in 1851 when the Commission des Monuments Historiques in Paris hired five photographers to document historical sites in France. These records supplemented existing measured drawings that had been undertaken prior to renovations, or as a response to ongoing structural decay among Romanesque or Gothic structures throughout the country. The waxed–paper negative was given its first true test here, and yielded results and information that gave confidence to others who wanted to journey with a camera and bring back images that could be published, widely distributed or displayed in exhibitions. Because of its ability to remain stable for a number of weeks, the sensitized paper pre-treated with wax also freed traveling photographers from the burden of immediate development and provided a more rigid (and relatively inexpensive) base to experiment with large print sizes.

This practice of collecting images with paper negatives along the route of an extended excursion was still relatively new, however, and the methods by which the process was undertaken were constantly being adjusted and improved. Le Gray’s and Blanquart–Evrard’s manuals—or their translations in other sources—aided many. Others found colleagues who were willing to provide insights based on their own adaptations, usually in situations were fluctuations in temperature or humidity caused the chemicals to react differently than they would in northern Europe. When Americans began to visit the areas around the Mediterranean in greater numbers after mid-century, this shared information motivated several to learn the craft of photography to enable memorable personal records or for its potential use for profit.

The most notable collection of early images made by American travelers using a paper negative process were those accomplished by Leavitt Hunt (1830–1907) and Nathan Flint Baker (1820–1891).4 Leavitt Hunt was the son of a Vermont congressman and the youngest of a notably talented group of siblings.5 At age thirteen his family relocated to Europe and Leavitt enrolled in a military boarding school in Geneva. After graduating, he moved to Heidelberg by 1847 to study law, theology and oriental languages at the university and during this period regularly traveled with family members throughout the continent. Through these experiences he gained a great interest in regional history and obtained skills in drawing artistic compositions from nature.