"Their Ruins are truly magnificent"
Early photos from Egypt

16.11.2004 to 27.02.2005

Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg
Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg

To visitors, Egypt represents the exotic while also bringing vividly to life its 5,000 years of history. Only two months after the announcement of the Daguerrotype process in 1839, the first photos of Egypt came into being. The monumentality of the pyramids and the temple ruins, blasted by the harsh desert wind, with their overturned columns, massive wrecked statues and weathered inscriptions, fascinated the pioneers of photography. Their pictures show a stunning presence of the past.

However, like the paintings of the late-romanticists, they also aimed to show the caducity and inevitable decay of all human creations, even the most massive and powerful, cut in stone.

Photographer travellers flocked to Egypt in increasing numbers, and produced their large-format, sepia-coloured albumin prints. Between 1860 and 1900 photographers such as Hammerschmidt, Bonfils, Beato or Sebah founded photographic studios in Alexandria, Cairo, Luxor, Assuan and Port Said.
Their repertoire included not only the 'beautiful temple ruins' but also Islamic architecture, town-sights and scenes of everyday life artistically dramatised by the camera.

These photographs, taken at a time when historic monuments were being robbed or destroyed and archaeological exploration had only just begun, are also of immense documentary value.
With the need to preserve these unique pictures in mind, a photo-archive was established at the Egyptian Museum Berlin in the 19th century. The current exhibition profits from its large and discerning collection.