Capturing cultural moments in time, the exhibition From Cairo to Constantinople: Early Middle East Photography is presented by the Royal Collection Trust. Having completed its run in Scotland at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, it will open at Buckingham Palace in London on November 7, 2014 where it will be on view in the Queen’s Gallery until 22nd February, 2015.
King Edward VII (1841-1910) was still a young man in 1862 when he visited the near East on an educational tour. It had been planned by his parents as part of the process of preparing him to be a model modern constitutional monarch.
Only 21 at the time, the Prince had already visited Rome, North America and Germany.
On this tour he would be accompanied by a small party of people, including British photographer Francis Bedford (1815-1994) whose role it was to record the Prince of Wales odyssey.
Prince Albert Edward (Bertie) later King Edward VII went to Egypt, Palestine, the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece meeting other princes and potentates, politicians and notable figures involved in the world of politics and diplomacy along the way.
He explored many well-known places and recorded them daily in his journal with Bedford illustrating them with his excellent snapshots.
Drawing with light is a wonderful definition of the word photograph, deriving from the ancient Greek words for light, and to draw. Light is that intangible phenomenon by which our world was first made visible. Over the centuries it has become symbolic of goodness, revelation and beauty. Nothing ever happens in isolation and events and trends are inextricably linked.
This show is a highly important record of the Prince’s historical journey, as he gained an insight into the cultural and political significance his country attached to that region of the world, which was just as complex and contested by as many people then as it is today.
It was in 1839 that photography first became accessible to everybody in England. The royal family were quick to demonstrate their interest in this new way of recording the world around them. Queen Victoria’s Consort Prince Albert was renowned for constantly embracing contemporary change and new ways of doing things. He was the first member of the royal family to be photographed. Prince Albert excited Queen Victoria’s interest in this new medium and they became enthusiastic patrons.
The first daguerreotypes imported into England from France were presented to the Queen on the morning of the day she proposed marriage to Albert (15th October 1839). They both became enthusiasts, encouraging their children as they grew up to take on photography as a hobby.
With the royal nod mastering the art of photography came to be considered by society as a refined accomplishment. Alfred, Edward’s brother became both passionate and proficient.
It is always important to understand historical events in context and in regard to the intellectual, philosophical and spiritual ideas of their day and the fashions and passions of the society in which they take place.
The introduction of steamships in the region after 1840 meant that the whole area had become far more accessible and this was the period when the famous British travel company Thomas Cook & Son began running the exciting English tours to the area that still persist today.
Bedford was the first photographer in history to receive permission to take photographs at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Prince Edward was a charming young man and he would win many people’s favour during his journey.
Best of all he was travelling in a ‘romantic’ manner, one not usually associated with a Prince of the realm. Riding a horse and camping out in a tent was a new and novel way to undertake a Prince’s travels.
He would complete the journey in the dashing style, for which he would later become renowned.
This splendid show documents the journey the young Prince Albert Edward and his photographer Francis Bedford took together, as he gained a first hand understanding of the vastness of the Ottoman Empire, whose Emperor was still at least nominally in control of many of the places the prince was travelling.
The word photography, from the French photographie, in its turn derived from the Greek words for light and to draw.
A photograph is life frozen in time, preserved for eternity as a fleeting moment. It conveys in a way, that no words can, our sense of purpose. It can also isolate the truth, expose the realities of our time and offer us a different perspective on life and art.
Mastering reflection was the first step toward an image making revolution that began with the development of the mirror in antiquity and ended in the nineteenth century with the triumph of photography. By the early twentieth century it had been accepted into the western art world as a distinctive form of individual and artistic expression and today we seldom realize the extent to which it has influenced our social and cultural growth.
British archaeologists had been leading the way to the Middle East for decades and the fervour by the turn of the 20th century, when Edward finally became King in 1901, had not waned, at least in terms of uncovering the secrets and mysteries of the past.
Egyptologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) now regarded, as the ‘father of archaeology’ was one of the most prominent of all British excavators and famous for finding the splendid mummy portraits at Hawara in Egypt.
Named for his maternal grandfather British navigator, pioneer hydrographer, and explorer of Australia and Tasmania Mathew Flinders, Flinders Petrie was responsible for more major ancient discoveries than any other archaeologist.
Petrie placed great emphasis on the observation and typological study of all the objects found. He stirred up the passion of many a generation of young archaeologists and allied trades and mentored many young hopefuls on his famous digs in Egypt. Egyptians who still work on sites all over the Middle East today descend in families from the first workers Petrie ever trained.
He invented the whole ‘science’ of archaeology and set up the curriculum for the first university degree ever given at University College London
In this climate academia reigned and photography began to take a central place in recording history’s events. This exciting and still new profession was growing rapidly and many were taking an academic approach to its use.
Archaeologists, anthropologists, botanists, geologists, art and architectural historians, scientists and learned men realized that photography not only facilitated their studies, but also provided accurate, exact visual records that were easily duplicated.
On digs in Egypt and all over the East following the tour of Edward, Prince of Wales photographic odyssey, the application would become more widely recognised and gain the momentum required so that when the lost tomb of Tutankhamun was finally found in 1922 (after Edward’s death) cameras would be on hand to record the event first hand.
When I was growing up in Australia following World War II one of the common occurrences in houses all over the ‘Commonwealth’ were the numerous images of the Middle East that abounded in almost everyone’s houses. Many an Aussie hallway sported a photograph of camels being ridden in the desert, near an oasis or past the pyramids at Giza, an exotic destination we all wished to travel to but could really only dream about.
On top of that was an ongoing fascination and curiosity for all things Egyptian, which had been stirred up by the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 and the continuing influence of its ongoing stories. There was a best selling book about Sinuhe the Egyptian, which was all the rage. It was a very special and additional lure.
Set in the Egypt of monotheist Pharaoh Akhenaten, the main hero of the piece was a royal physician, Sinuhe whose tales of life during the 18th dynasty were full of disillusionment and the weariness of war, which was entirely similar to contemporary times allowing people to immediately bond with his plight.
By Finnish author Mika Waltari it was first published in 1945 and Sinuhe found its way into world libraries when it was adapted into English a few years later.
It was also adapted into a Hollywood film in 1954 starring Edmund Purdom, one of the heartthrobs of the time and its influence was felt for a few decades.
Francis Bedford was a key figure in the early photographic industry. He had taken up learning all he could about this new medium and was quickly acknowledged for the accuracy of what he recorded and also its ‘truth’.
Prince Albert was a big champion of truth in all things, and so Bedford’s skill was also recognised by the Queen, who gave him royal commissions, including photographing items in the royal archives at Windsor Castle in1854.
In 1857 and 1858 Bedford also photographed the places associated with Prince Albert’s early life in Coburg for Queen Victoria. She was keen to understand everything about the man she absolutely adored and loved for her whole life. She gave the Prince the photographs Bedford had taken for his birthday.
The firm Bedford worked for benefited greatly from the success of these first enterprises as they were appointed ‘lithographers to HM The Queen’. It also helped their aims when Bedford gained the appointment for covering the royal tour.
This event would become the crowning achievement of the photographer’s career, even though it was hastily arranged following all the ceremonies surrounding Prince Albert’s unexpected and sudden death.
Prince Edward parents had been particularly encouraging of him going on this trip, especially his father who suddenly and dramatically on 14th December of 1861 he succumbed to what was believed at the time to be typhoid fever.
The excitement that formerly reigned over the tour with his parents turned sadly sour as the Queen blamed the young Prince for contributing to his father’s early death. It’s a long story beyond the scope of this piece, but important in its historical context.
Queen Victoria was determined the young Prince should still go on the tour, despite the fact she and the family were in heavy mourning. It was on the 6th February 1862 when Prince Edward and Bedford finally left England, just on eight weeks following his father’s death.
The group took a train to Venice, the place where they would join the royal yacht Osborne for the journey to Alexandria, sited at the gateway of the River Nile and the Mediterranean. It was the starting point for the well-planned itinerary of destinations that had been chosen for the Prince by his father Albert in consultation with a group of scholars and politicians.
Bedford was suddenly offered the chance to accompany the Prince of Wales and his party and was virtually given only two weeks to prepare himself and his equipment for what would be the most important royal assignment yet. It must have seemed a daunting task for Bedford to work out just how he was going to transport all his equipment to such a place of climatic extremes, despite help from the palace.
He had to take into consideration that much of these early photographic aids were indeed fragile and unstable and he was also unsure of how they would perform in the desert with the sand and the heat. The equipment had to be dispatched ahead of the party to be collected at Alexandria on arrival so he literally only had days to be ready.
The young King in waiting and his entourage would visit some of the most famous of the archaeological sites under survey at that time, a fact that today would have most contemporary archaeologists salivating at the thought.
He was accompanied by General Bruce, a friend of the family who was also now in charge of the party. Colonel Teesdal, an equerry to the Prince from 1858-90 and Colonel Keppel, another retired soldier turned politician and Robert Meads a civil servant who had been at college with the Prince were included.
Then there were the Prince’s medical and spiritual advisors Dr Minter and Dr Stanley, the latter being the Dean of Westminster. He would act as tour guide because he already had extensive knowledge and experience of travelling throughout the East. An advisor to Prince Albert, Dr Stanley had to be persuaded to go, because he was not very impressed with his young charge. He also went ahead so that he would be there to meet and greet the Prince when he arrived.
Philae, Karnak, Luxor along the Nile, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablous and Hebron were all names that were particularly significant because of their association with the Bible. The Prince was after all a guardian of the church in waiting so these were places he knew about.
Dr Stanley was on hand and able to provide him with a running narration of both the history and the texts from The Holy Bible they related to as they journeyed from one place to the next.
This would attract great interest in the region, although the best was perhaps yet to come. Despite struggling with many of the technical obstacles along the way he gained special permissions simply because he was travelling with royalty. The doors that were opened for him reaped rewards.
Extracts from the Prince’s journal record some of the daily events
13 March: The ruins of Philae are beautiful and most interesting and Mr. Bedford the photographer, who came from England with me and our party took some very good views….
14 March: Mr. Bedford (the photographer who accompanied us from England) took some very successful views of the temple (at Edfoo).
21 April: We lunched under a fig tree at 12 o’clock on the site of where once the city of Capernaum is said to have stood, + Mr. Bedford photographed us ‘en groupe
4 May: At about 10 we left our camp to lionize thoroughly the fine temple (at Baalbec) + we were much pleased with what we saw. We remained about two hours going over it; Mr. Bedford took some excellent views of it, which will be a great addition to his collection of photographs.
The time it took Bedford to set up and take photographs at the time must have caused many frustrations for the photographer, who also had to keep up with the cracking pace set by the young man and the extensive and comprehensive nature of the tour they were on.
At one stage the Prince left Bedford behind to finish his work with a guard of fifty soldiers to protect him and help him with his equipment transportation problems.
As the Prince headed off toward Damascus he visited famous castles along the way that had been built by the European Crusaders during the 12th and 13th centuries.
He was however travelling in contemporary times and experiencing both the conflict and controversies that were still raging in the region, which could not but help affect his journey.
In Damascus Bedford recorded the destruction of the Christian Quarter of the city, where a dreadful massacre of Christians had taken place in 1860, just two years before the Prince arrived.
The Prince took a great interest in Bedford’s work and so he also met one of the area’s most famous freedom fighter’s Abd al-Qadir, who had protected a group of Christians in his home, gaining European admiration.
One of Bedford’s photographic portraits of Abd al-Qadir will be on show.
The tour came to a close after the Prince’s visit to the classical Roman site of Baalbek in Lebanon.
He had a week long stay in Constantinople, now Istanbul, where the Ottoman Emperor Abdul-Aziz lived.
His rule in the region had been weakened by the conflict between the Russian Empire and an alliance of The French, British and Ottoman Empire and Kingdom of Sardinia known as the Crimean War (1853-1856), the first modern war documented daily by written reports and actual photographs.
The Emperor needed continued European support if he wished to stay in power and so was eager to welcome the Prince to his realm.
All the images would resound around the world when, on the return to England Bedford through Day & Son published 172 of his photographs in the British Journal of Photography. He then also put them on public exhibition in London during the August of 1862.
In the corner of each of his plates, Bedford scratched not only his name but also the date on which the picture was made, producing a visual diary of the precise day on which the Royal party visited a depicted site.
Two of the photographs were reproduced as engravings by the Illustrated London News and a further 20 images, which were not released to the public at all were presented to Queen Victoria and the Prince by Francis Bedford.
This exhibition will not only feature these images, but also the amazing archaeological material brought back to Britain by the then Prince of Wales.
Among the objects he arrived with was an Egyptian papyrus, which was inscribed with the Amduat, a funerary text whose name means ‘what is in the netherworld’. It was intended as a guide to the afterlife for the deceased and described the journey through the Underworld of Re the Egyptian sun god.
A painted wooden funerary stela of Nakhtmontu a priest of the Egyptian god Amon-Re will also be displayed in the original frame commissioned by the Prince on his return to London.
The Prince also had a number of ancient scarabs set into pieces of Egyptian-style gold jewellery, some of which he presented as gifts to his fiancée, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, to mark their marriage in March 1863.
Francis Bedford’s photographs however are the main event. They captured a moment in the life of a Prince of England that was importantly documented by the marvellous medium of photography for the rest of humankind.
The Prince of Wales throughout his life’s journey continued his interest in photography, becoming President of the Amateur Photographic Association (July 1862) and Patron of the Photographic Society (January 1863).
The British Journal of Photography recorded on 1st August 1862 about the exhibition of Bedford’s work that it was…perhaps the most important photographic exhibition that has hitherto been placed before the public, whether we regard it as an aid to history or as a collection in which unity of design has been a ruling principle in the artist’s mind”.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012
Royal Collection Trust Exhibition
Cairo to Constantinople: Early Middle East Photography
The Queen’s Gallery,
7 November – 22 February, 2014
Ref: Media Release The Royal Collection, an Extract from the Royal Command 1974 entitled – Francis Bedford’s photographs of the educational tour of the Middle East by the Prince of Wales, 1862 by Bill Jay.
The Francis Bedford collection (purchased by the Birmingham (England) Public Libraries in 1985) consists of more than 2700 glass negatives and almost 2050 prints, and the manuscript catalogue of his negatives.
In 2011 the Birmingham Library and Archive Services purchased an additional collection of 172 photographs from the ‘Tour in the East’ made in 1862 by the Prince of Wales, (the late Edward VII), which covered Athens, Corfu, Constantinople, Tripoli, Egypt, Syria and the Holy Land. Bedford’s photographs are also held in the National Maritime Museum, London, the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY, and in many art museums and galleries.
Images used in this story courtesy Royal Colletion Trust: Photographs from The Holy Land, Egypt, Constaninople, Athens etc by Francis Bedford [From the book Bedford, Francis. The Holy Land, Egypt, Constantinople, Athens, etc, etc.
A series of forty-eight photographs taken by Francis Bedford for H. R. H. the Prince of Wales during the tour of the East, in which, by command, he accompanied his Royal Highness, with descriptive letterpress and interp. by W. M. Thomson. London: Day & Son, 1866. 2 vol. 48 I. of plates. 48 b & w. ] Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II