On a recent trip to London, England, I paid a visit to the Queen’s Gallery of Buckingham Palace. I hadn’t intended to but I’d seen a flyer somewhere over the previous days touting a photography exhibition of early pictures of the Middle East. That’s all I knew of the exhibit – that it was displaying early pictures of the Middle East – when I rocked up at the plush gallery for what turned out to be a few fascinating hours of analysing some of the first pictures ever taken of places I was lucky enough myself to have visited in the past.
Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East
In 1862, the photographer Francis Bedford was asked to accompany the then Prince of Wales on a four-month tour of the Middle East. The journey began in Windsor on February 6. The Prince and his companions would travel through Egypt, the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey & Greece before heading back to Britain in June. In 1862, this region was under the control of the Ottoman Empire, centered on Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul.
Travelling with heavy equipment, Bedford photographed the architecture, landscape & peoples of the regions visited. Of the 200 or so images he made, 172 were publicly exhibited in the German Gallery in London after the tour. The public could also purchase copies. The exhibit was described as ‘perhaps the most important photographic exhibition that has hitherto been placed before the public‘, with the images helping to shape both the Victorian understanding of the Middle East and confirming Bedford’s reputation as one of the leading photographers of the nineteenth century. The Prince of Wales acquired two complete sets of photographs from Bedford with the original photographs on display in the Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East exhibition, having been brought together for the first time since their original 1862 unveiling.
I recognised many of the structures & landmarks Bedford photographed all those years ago, but was instantly drawn to the above picture as I captured an almost identical image some 146 years later on my April 2008 visit to Cairo.
Francis Bedford (1815-1894) || Photographer to the Prince of Wales
Francis Bedford was the first photographer to accompany a royal tour. In 1862, when asked bv Queen Victoria to travel with the Prince of Wales, Bedford was an accomplished and respected professional photographer, with two earlier royal commissions already completed.
Bedford was born in London. He initially started working as a draughtsman and subsequently as a lithographer, but in 1853 he took up photography. Within a few years, he was working as a commercial photographer of landscape and architectural views.