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Flaubert, Du Camp, early photography in Egypt, Nubia, Palestine and Syria

old photograph Maxime Du CampIf you’ve read Flaubert in Egypt or Geoffrey Wall’s magnificent biography Flaubert, you’ll remember Gustave’s travel companion, Maxime Du Camp.

Before they headed to Egypt, Du Camp studied for six months with a professional photographer. No disposable or point-and-shoot digital in those days! You practically had to be a chemist. And the amount of luggage it generated was incredible: bottles and bottles of delicate chemicals, crates of glass plates plus all the peripheral equipment and finally, the camera itself. It was a major undertaking.

geoffrey wall flaubertAnd Du Camp, if memory serves, was the first to take photos in Egypt. The first to capture the pyramids, the desert, the ancient monuments. I remember reading somewhere (where?) that Flaubert was horrified — no one would ever see these things for themselves first, through their own eyes. From then on, everyone would see these wonders through layers of previously seen photographs.

Well, it’s far too late to us, drenched as we are in images. So enjoy flipping through some lovely early photos of Egypt and North Africa and here’s a complete NYPL scan of the book of photos that Du Camp published when he returned.

And just for fun, here’s an excerpt from Wall’s bio.

Flaubert made conscientious efforts to imitate the bizarre cry of the camel. “I hope to perfect it before we leave, but it is quite difficult because of the particular gurgling sound that quivers somewhere beneath the screech…” […and a little later…] Suppressing the urge to put a bullet through his friend’s head, Du camp sent Flaubert away to ride ahead at a safe distance.

the sphinx still buried in sand
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