by Michael Stillman
The latest catalogue from Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books is not one of books at all. It is a catalogue of photographs, specifically, Vintage Travel Photography 1850-1900. While there are a few exceptions, most of these photographs were taken on travels to Asia, notably India and China, but also Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and others (to use their current names). These parts of the world may still appear mysterious to westerners, but in the 19th century, they were downright baffling, being so different from European lands. These vintage photographs, some offered singly, others parts of albums or collections, provide a window to distant lands in distant times, places that no longer exist in the form in which they were pictured. This catalogue, and the photographs offered, grant us a rare trip back in time. Here are some samples.
Item 1, shown on the cover (click the thumbnail image to the left to enlarge) is the exception -- a book of photos not related to travel. It is a spectacular work. The title is Animal Locomotion. An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements. 1872-1885. This book by Eadweard Muybridge was published in 1887 by the University of Pennsylvania, which provided funding for his studies. Muybridge took over 20,000 photographs of animals in movement to create these series of images of their movement. He was able to use these sequential photographs to create early "motion pictures." Among the animals Muybridge liked to photograph were nude women, which certainly couldn't have hurt sales. It was his work that first answered the old question of whether all four of a horse's hooves are ever off the ground at one time when it is running (the answer is "yes"). Priced at £15,000 (US equivalent of approximately $30,793).
Item 2 is one of the earlier photographs you will find, a circa 1845 salt print of two Newhaven fishwives by David Hill and Robert Adamson. Fishwives, for the record, are women who sell fish, not those who are married to them. Hill and Adamson's work is highly collectible as it is both of high quality for the time and because Adamson died in 1848 while the art was still very new. £2,000 ($4,105).
Item 15 is a collection of 29 of what may be the earliest photographs from Madagascar. Very few westerners were allowed into the country during the early days of photography. Rev. William Ellis managed to gain entry for missionary work and was able to take these photographs around 1855. A rival Jesuit missionary may also have taken pictures at this time, but if so, they have not been found. £27,000 ($55,421).
One feature that has changed the least in the years since these photographs were taken is the Great Wall of China. Item 79 is a circa 1875 shot attributed to William Saunders. £175 ($359). Not so common today, however, is the rickshaw, pictured in Saunders' 1870 photograph. It depicts two women in a double-seater, their driver pushing from behind (it looks similar to a wheelbarrow). £ 175 ($359).