Maureen Callahan, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan School of Information, is an archivist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Maureen has recently created a blog presenting and commenting on interesting images she encounters while working with the museum’s archives. Maureen has agreed to share her discoveries on this blog as well.
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.