|An albumen print view of Jericho. The location is identified in the lower right-hand corner of the image.
Photographed by Maison Bonfils, identified in the lower left-hand corner of the image.
Bonfils was a family firm of French photographers, Félix Bonfils (1831-1886), his son Adrien Bonfils (1860-1929) and finally Lydie Bonfils née Marie Lydie Cabanis (1837-1918), wife of Félix and mother of Adrien.
Félix Bonfils was born in St.Hippolyte du Fort in France in 1831. Originally a bookbinder, in 1860 he enlisted and was sent to the Levant. He liked Lebanon and when his young son Adrien (born 1860) developed respiratory problems, he decided to emigrate. By now he was working as an engraver of heliogravures in Arles, but at this point he decided to learn photography. In 1867 the Bonfils family moved to the dry climate of Beirut and opened a photographic studio there. His work infused wiuth a sense of exploration, Félix photographed extensively throughout Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Greece. By 1871 the studio could claim a staggering 15.000 prints and 9,000 stereoviews from almost 600 negatives. The Maison Bonfils eventually became a large, successful business with branches in Cairo, Alexandria and France, famous for their Middle Eastern views, and profiting from the enormous popularity of organized tours that had opened up tourism in the latter half of the nineteenth century. 'Those who are prevented from travelling to these sites through illness, lack of funds, or their domestic situation' wrote Félix in the introduction to his 1878 photographic album Egypt and Nubia'have the possibility to go there at their leisure, at low cost and with little effort, to those countries which many have reached only at the risk of their lives'.
In 1878, at the age of 17, Adrien took over the work of photography while his parents ran the studios. As did all large concerns, the firm also hired other photographers to work for them, and the later photographs bearing the Bonfils name are often more professional in their technical execution but less interesting as images.
At some point Adrien turned his back on photography and became an hotelier in Beirut, his mother taking over the family business until she was forced by war to evacuate Beirut in 1917. For many years it was not known that Lydie Bonfils had taken many of the images published by the firm. Wife of a photographer, mother of a photographer, and a photographer herself, she once said that she was ‘sick of the smell of albumen’.
The print measures 8.5” by 11.2” (215 mm by 285 mm) and is mounted on a slightly larger section of cut-down album page. There was at one time another photograph on the reverse of the album page, but this has been neatly skimmed off.
condition: The print shows one small, tobacco-coloured ‘smudge’ in the area of the sky, and a black fleck on the skyline, the latter being damage to the original negative; otherwise, the print is in excellent condition.
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