Tom Van Eynde: Thebes Photographic Project

Originally presented at the Gibson Gallery Exhibition, State University Of New York, College At Potsdam: October 13 - November 11, 1995.

With the permission of photographer Tom Van Eynde, the Oriental Institute is making a selection of photographs from the exhibition available on our WWW server. Twelve photographs will be presented bi-monthly.

Thebes Photographic Project

Approximately 150 years after the invention of photography, and 130 years after Francis Frith began his photographic expedition in Luxor, Egypt. I followed in James Henry Breasted's footsteps, continuing the work he founded for the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute's Epigraphic Survey at Luxor. Here as field photographer for the survey, as an independent project, I began The Thebes Photographic Project. My goal being to photograph the ancient capital of Thebes, and its sites, both, the little known, as well as the popular tourist attractions. The aim of the project is to record the topography of the ancient sites in their present state, as well as, the interrelationships that they form with the landscape. This work is both a reexamination and a celebration of this area, one of the first true destinations for photographic expeditions such as Frith's work in Egypt and Palestine, and Breasted's Epigraphic Survey project.

Luxor, the modern name for the ancient city of Thebes, has, since the time of the ancient Greeks, been a favorite destination for travelers, as well as Egyptologists. Thebes, being the religious center of ancient Egypt, has the greatest concentration of major ancient sites in the world. These temples and tombs figure prominently, not only in the early development of western religion, but, also in the formulation of the ideas for western civilization.

These sites have always been in a constant state of change. Even in antiquity these temples where dismantled and reused to build other structures. Over the years, these buildings decayed, and were eroded quite literally by the sands of time. They where discovered, and then rediscovered, even now, their rebuilding is changing the face of the landscape.

The combination of on-going conservation, and renewed interest, convinced me of the importance for the need of photographic documentation of this area, at this time. Surprisingly, with all the interest in Egypt, both popular and scholarly, little effort has been given to recording this area. It is not surprising that even less attention has been paid to these sites as a point of departure for aesthetic exploration. While every day, tourists take hundreds of photographs, not since Francis Frith in 1856 has any one attempted to create a photographic catalog, of not only the sites, but to include the context of the sites in the surrounding landscape. This relationship of temple to landscape was most important in the placement of these sites, as well as the landscapes influence on the architecture. This relationship is crucial in understanding why this area was considered sacred for all these many years, evoking the underlying mystery that has drawn people to this place since what seems to be the beginning of time.

My photographs are, in a way, a game I play between myself and the viewer. The images bounce our remembrance between the past, and the present. The pictures reflect the way things might have looked 100 years ago. I want to imagine that these photographs would be similar to views of these sites in the romantic Victorian times. I intentionally do not include information that dates the images. The photographs are toned to give the appearance of albumen prints that were made around the turn of the century. The format of the photographs, the panorama, also harkens back to a very popular shape from the past. While the panorama has again become the style of the times, even now disposable pocket cameras come in this format, the shape from the past is perfect for recording the architecture and the landscape.

Tom Van Eynde

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