Some of the Oldest Photos You Will Ever See: Discover Photographs of Greece, Egypt, Turkey & Other Mediterranean Lands (1840s)

Begin­ning in the late sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, aris­to­crat­ic Eng­lish­men or con­ti­nen­tal Euro­peans came of age and went on a Grand Tour. Last­ing any­thing from few a months to a few years, such trips were meant direct­ly to expose their young tak­ers to the lega­cy of the Renais­sance and antiq­ui­ty. Nat­u­ral­ly, most Grand Tour itin­er­aries placed the utmost impor­tance on Italy and Greece; some even went to the Holy Land, as sat­i­rized by Mark Twain in The Inno­cents Abroad. By the time that book was pub­lished in 1869, the Grand Tour was out of high fash­ion — but a cou­ple of decades ear­li­er, Joseph-Philib­ert Girault de Prangey had pre­served many of its des­ti­na­tions with a piece of cut­ting-edge tech­nol­o­gy known as the cam­era.

Girault de Prangey went on his first pho­to­graph­ic “Grand Tour” in 1841, when he was in his late thir­ties. Hav­ing already trav­eled exten­sive­ly and received an edu­ca­tion in both art and law, he was hard­ly a cal­low youth in need of refine­ment. But he was an aris­to­crat, the sole inher­i­tor of his fam­i­ly for­tune, and thus able to “devote his life to his pas­sions: trav­el, arts, and pub­lish­ing.”

So says the nar­ra­tor of the Kings and Things video above, which tells the sto­ry of how Girault de Prange man­aged to leave us the ear­li­est known pho­tographs of a large swath of the world. This project “took him from Italy to Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and the Lev­ant, he cap­tured over 1,000 pho­tographs, with sub­jects rang­ing from streetscapes and archi­tec­tur­al details to nature and land­scapes and por­traits of local peo­ple.”

Not that pho­tog­ra­phy per se was Girault de Prangey’s goal; for him, tak­ing a pic­ture con­sti­tut­ed mere­ly an ear­ly step in the cre­ation of a draw­ing or paint­ing. “Although he only intend­ed to use them as a sort of sketch to refer to back home in his stu­dio,” he “arranged his pic­tures so as to pro­duce a sense of dra­ma or mys­tery, and this artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty sets him apart from many oth­er pio­neers of pho­tog­ra­phy, who were pri­mar­i­ly tech­ni­cians or inven­tors.” The age of the Grand Tour was end­ing even in Girault de Prangey’s day, but 180 years lat­er (and about a cen­tu­ry after their redis­cov­ery in one of his estate’s store­rooms), his pho­tographs send us on a very dif­fer­ent kind of trip: not just across the world, but — much more thrilling­ly — deep back in time as well.

via Aeon

Relat­ed con­tent:

The First Pho­to­graph Ever Tak­en (1826)

See the First Pho­to­graph of a Human Being: A Pho­to Tak­en by Louis Daguerre (1838)

Take a Visu­al Jour­ney Through 181 Years of Street Pho­tog­ra­phy (1838–2019)

Behold the Pho­tographs of John Thom­son, the First West­ern Pho­tog­ra­ph­er to Trav­el Wide­ly Through Chi­na (1870s)

Rome Comes to Life in Pho­tochrom Col­or Pho­tos Tak­en in 1890: The Colos­se­um, Tre­vi Foun­tain & More

The First Sur­viv­ing Pho­to­graph of the Moon (1840)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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