Groupe de Bedouines Syriennes (Group of Bedouin Women)

January 23, 2009

Cross-posted to the International Council on Archives’ “Young Professionals, New Archivists” blog.

Group of Bedouin Women -- University of Pennsylvania Museum Image #165843
Group of Bedouin Women -- University of Pennsylvania Museum Image #165843

This image, produced at some point between 1876 and 1885, was the work of Maison Bonfils, a photography studio in Beirut. A studio image, obviously staged, this photograph shows a group of Bedouin women from Syria.

Bonfils is credited with introducing the genre of Near Eastern photographic portraiture, and the archive’s collection includes remarkable portraits of Bedouins, Ottoman officials, Shiite Muslims, and village peasants. While this and other portraits were posed and often made use of models, and while the work has been justifiably criticized for exoticizing subjects for European tastes, the Bonfils collection nevertheless remains historically and aesthetically meaningful.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum Archives holds a collection of more than 1,100 images from Maison Bonfils, including albumen prints, photocromes and lantern slides.