First up this season at the Metropolitan Museum of Art are two shows featuring photographs of Egypt -- "Along the Nile: Early Photographs of Egypt" and "The Pharaoh's Photographer: Harry Burton, Tutankhamun and the Metropolitan's Egyptian Expedition." But if you hunger for vintage views of the cradle of civilization, you don't have to wait until they open on Sept. 11, 2001.
The Gallery at the American Bible Society at 61st and Broadway near Lincoln Center has a great exhibition of photos of the Middle East on right now. Only a handful depict Egypt itself -- Small Pyramids of Giza and A Late Ptolemaic Temple for example, but the beauty of these vintage images of Egypt is complemented by shots from all over the region.
The Holy Land through the Eyes of Explorers draws 63 photos from the collection of the École Biblique of Jerusalem, founded in 1890 by French Dominicans. The prints, made recently, are from glass negatives that date from 1895 to 1925.
Biblical and religious sites of all faiths abound, like the Raphaël Savignac's Roofs of the City of Aleppo, Syria, with its main mosque front and center. Ethnographic prints are especially revealing. A posed shot of the Sheikh of Qariatain and his Children (June, 1914) impresses with the mixture of eastern and western dress adopted by the sheikh versus the western garments of his children. His son asserts his upbringing in Palmyra, Syria, by holding a falcon.
Because the École studied epigraphy (the study of ancient inscriptions), there's a lot to interest archeology buffs here. A close-up of a huge rock inscribed with the distinctive writing of the Nabataeans (a North Arabia tribe that flourished 4th c. BC to 2nd c. AD) also has riders on horseback. The photograph was taken in 1896.
If you love architecture, you might want to spend more time with the Persian Consulate (May, 1917) of Djedda, Saudi Arabia, or Nablus before the Earthquake (ca. 1925). The Nablus, Palestine, photo was taken by Antonin Jaussin, O. P., the other Dominican along with Savignac responsible for the majority of these photos. Both did extensive fieldwork in Jerusalem and over a wide swath of the Middle East.
At the end of the show are a few very moving prints of Armenian refugee camps taken during World War I when Turkey massacred thousands of Armenians and exiled many more.
The Gallery at the American Bible Society is located at 1865 Broadway (at 61st St.). The show is up through Sept. 15, 2001.
* * *
Archeological treasures of the New World are getting their due over at Throckmorton Fine Art. "Ancient Sites of the Americas: Photographs by Teoberto Maler, Désiré Charney and A. P. Maudsley" offers photographs of Mayan ruins from the late 19th to early 20th century.
Teobert Maler (1842-1919) was a German sent to Mexico as part of the French forces to protect Maximilian, but returned to devote himself to photographing Mayan sites in several areas of Mexico.
Désiré Charney (1828-1915), a Frenchman, concentrated on Yucatán and won a Legion of Honor for his discoveries, while A. P. Maudsley (1850-1931), an Englishman, who went to Guatemala originally to escape the cold, became enamored of the monuments he saw. He underwrote scientific excavations all over Yucatan, and his scholarship has been a major influence in Mayan studies.
All three present photographs of monumental Mayan ruins as they first appeared after centuries. Hacked trees abound around the stelae, palaces, and platforms newly liberated from the jungle.
The works are vintage albumen prints or, in the case of Maudsley, book plates. The exhibition is on view through Sept. 19, 2001, at Throckmorton Fine Art, 153 East 61st Street in Manhattan.
* * *
Almost 200 photographs of Native Americans from the mid-19th century to today are part of "Spirit Capture: Native Americans and the Photographic Image," now at the National Museum of the American Indian's George Gustav Heye Center in Lower Manhattan. This provocative selection asks viewers to consider who makes photographs and why.
Images by contemporary Native Americans are shown beside archival footage of Wild West shows, photos of expositions, cultural tourism, and many military and peace treaty prints from the 19th century. Urban Indians appear as well as Indians on reservations in more recent prints.
This is a big show that gives a glimpse of shifting white attitudes toward Native Americans. And it allows Native Americans from many different peoples to represent themselves.
Through July 21, 2002. National Museum of the American Indian, 1 Bowling Green.
N. F. KARLINS is a New York art historian and critic.