Damascus, the street called “Straight”. HSM.CC:0501.
“It is the true Arabia … there can never be another picture of the whole, in our time, because here it is all said, and by a great master” T. E. Lawrence
Setting off from Damascus in 1876, Charles Doughty travelled for 21 months across the deserts of Arabia, through regions almost entirely unknown to Western eyes. He faced many hazards, from malnutrition and heat exhaustion to attack by hostile Wahhabi communities. Initially he travelled with the Hajj, before venturing into the desert interior alongside a Bedouin family and other nomadic groups. He reached the city of Unayzah, in central Arabia, and finally arrived at the Red Sea port of Jeddah in 1878.
His account of this remarkable journey is considered to be one of the finest travel books in the English language and inspired T. E. Lawrence’s excursions thirty years later. Despite its abundant merits, it was little known until Lawrence became its most avid and practical reader, using it as a guide during his travels across Arabia and admiring its descriptions of a bygone way of life. Lawrence provided a preface to the 3rd edition, published in 1921.
The Folio Society has recently published a new edition of Travels in Arabia Deserta. The new edition includes a preface by the author and politician Rory Stewart, in addition to Lawrence’s tribute. Stewart underlines the importance of Doughty’s achievement, saying that “no one who is seriously interested in travel or Arab custom, or indeed the extremity of human experience, can afford to ignore this book”.
While the original edition was illustrated with line drawings, the new version also includes 48 photographs from the period, selected from the collections of the Fine Arts Library. These images, from our extensive holdings of photographs by the Maison Bonfils, provide a new visual context for Doughty’s travels. Creating digital files for the publication gave us the opportunity to include a few more of these evocative images in VIA, Harvard’s online image catalog.
Capital, San Pedro la Rua cloister, Estella, Spain. Arthur Kingsley Porter Collection.
The Fine Arts Library holds a collection of over 10,000 photographs of European medieval monuments taken by Professor Arthur Kingsley Porter (1883-1933) in the 1920s. The Porter collection includes negatives as well as prints and served as the basis for several of his noted publications such as Romanesque sculpture of the pilgrimage roads (1923).
Kathryn Brush, Professor at the University of Western Ontario, has studied Porter’s work in depth and recently focused on the role played by Lucy Wallace Porter (1876-1962) in her husband’s photographic campaigns. There is reason to believe that Mrs. Porter took many of the images and even that she may have been the more accomplished photographer. It is of course difficult to attribute responsibility in the absence of detailed shooting records. It was rewarding therefore to locate this image of Mrs. Porter behind the camera as evidence of her efforts.
The Fine Arts Library recently acquired a limited edition publication by renowned Australian photojournalist Stephen Dupont. Entitled Axe Me Biggie, a rendering of the Dari expression for “take my picture”, it includes ninety black and white Polaroid portrait photographs of Afghanis taken near the central bus station in Kabul, on one day in 2006. These were selected from over 665 images in total; as part of the project each print was presented to the sitter and the negatives retained to make further reproductions. Although several of these images have been exhibited and published before, this book presents the largest survey available to date. This handmade book features images printed digitally on heavy photographic paper.
Dupont has been photographing in Afghanistan since 1993 and the portrait project compliments his more journalistic work in the area. He has photographed in many war-torn parts of the world to date. Dupont was the Peabody Museum’s Gardner fellow in 2010 and is currently photographing in Papua New Guinea for that project.
50 Jahre Madaus: Eine aufgeschlossene Firma. Köln-Merheim: Dr. Madaus & Co., .
This photography book was especially created for the 50th anniversary of a German pharmaceutical firm. Founded in 1919, Madaus is still a major drug company although no longer with the homeopathic focus of its early years.
A whimsical and creative tour-de-force, the work is more of an artist’s book than a company rag. It includes a variety of clever and irreverent references to the firm’s work and activities. In its 72 pages of photomontages and collages, printed on heavy laminated card stock, it contains an array of pop-up inserts, pull-out tabs, , tipped-in ephemera, a reader reply card requesting response to the book and an eight-page “Kochbuch”. This item is a direct reference to the mother of the founders of the firm, who worked as an unlicensed healer before her sons went into business. Another memorable fold-out display shows a white rat that squeaks when opened. There is also a color fold-out poster of a 1930s advertisement for the firm. The photographer Barbara Schulten and the editor Siegfried Leuselhardt were given a great deal of leeway in presenting the firm and its operations. The work they created to commemorate the history of the company has a unique presence in the history of photography publications.
One of the singular, and most generous, book funds available to the Harvard College Library is the one created by Douglass A. Roby, Class of 1965. Although Mr. Roby spent a great part of his career working for the New York City Transit Authority, he was an accomplished scholar, receiving advanced degrees from Yale University and Hunter College and specializing in medieval history. Just before his death in 2001, Mr. Roby established a fund to support library resources that provide a positive portrait of the lives of gay men and women.
One of the purchases made using Roby funds was a periodical called The Male Figure. Bruce of Los Angeles (Bruce Bellas, 1909-1974) was one of the foremost photographers to emerge from the Southern California body-building mail-order catalogue scene of the mid-Fifties and early Sixties. This example of his work, a portrait of Rlee Brewer (not a typo), comes from the journal Bruce produced, published in three dozen tiny chapbooks from 1956 to 1965. In the era before Stonewall and Gay Liberation, when there was the very real chance that anyone purchasing photographs of nude men would be arrested, images of this sort had to be coded to pass as (somewhat) innocent depictions of musculature and exercise in a manner that would make them recognizable to (mostly closeted) gay men and invisible to everyone else.
Moore and Stephenson (no dates), Atlanta, Georgia. American Library Association Twenty-first annual conference, Atlanta, Georgia, May 8-13, 1899.
In May 1899 over 200 librarians from across the United States assembled in Atlanta for the annual meeting of the American Library Association (ALA). The six day program was packed with sessions devoted to reports from officers and committees and sessions about library collections, services, and buildings. Fortunately for the attendees, social activities relieved the serious proceedings. One afternoon the attendees travelled to Stone Mountain for an outdoor barbecue and the next afternoon the sessions and a reception were held at a private gentlemen’s club, the Piedmont Driving Club House “with lunch and coon-dance at sundown”. It was during one of these social events that a group photograph was taken.
The balding, bearded man in the middle of the front row who appears to be lost in thought during a springtime social event is Melvil Dewey (1851-1931), best known as the creator of a classification and subject indexing system, still in use, for organizing books in libraries, known as the “Dewey Decimal Classification”. Dewey’s passion was education and efficiency, the former leading him to participate in the establishment of the American Library Association and the latter to a less-successful drive to reform spelling and the metric system. Dewey, despite his appearance in this photograph, was a charismatic leader and behind-the-scenes bully who significantly shaped the association’s early development and served as its President and Secretary.