British photographic history

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James Roberston (1813-1888) & early Greece

No austerity measures here as The Benaki Museum prepares to display a collection of early photography by James Robertson (1813-1888) who was one of the first prominent traveller-photographers to depict scenes of mid-nineteenth century Greece.
Of Scottish descent, he has been identified as the engraver James Robertson, who worked in London around 1830. He first settled in Constantinople in 1841, where he spent forty years of his life working as a master engraver in the imperial mint. His photography career began in the early 1850’s when he opened a photographer's studio in Peran, the European district of Constantinople. His photographs, which were immediately popular among the art lovers of his period, appeared in international exhibitions in Paris and London and were frequently reproduced in the leading periodical "The London Illustrated News". He died in 1888 in Yokohama.
Robertson earned his place in the history of photography with his coverage of the Crimean war, and with his photographs of Constantinople and other historical Mediterranean sites, such as Athens, Malta, Damascus, Egypt and the Holy Land.
A close study of his work in Athens reveals that he first visited the city in 1853-1854 and probably returned later with Felice Beato, another renowned, somewhat younger, photographer.
The monuments of the Acropolis (Propylaea, Temple of Athena Nike, Parthenon, Erechtheum) and the city of Athens (Temple of Olympian Zeus, Tower of the Winds, Gate of Athena Archegetis, Lysicrates Monument) as well as the Temples of Poseidon in Sounion, Aphaia on the island of Aegina, and Apollo in Corinth were magnificently portrayed by his camera while contemporary Athens was only infrequently depicted or used as a setting for its ancient remains.
Although he rarely photographed people in his early work, in later work he handled them with consummate skill as a means of alleviating the monotony of ancient ruins and as an allusion to contemporary paintings.
James Robertson's collection of photographs of Greece was published simultaneously in London and Constantinople. One of the few remaining portfolios (44 photos) entitled "Photographs by James Robertson, Athens and Grecian Antiquities" was donated by Rena Andreadi to the Photographic Archives of the Benaki Museum where it is treasured as a precious historical document and a rare example of early photographic art.

The exhibition features 38 photographs included in the portfolio: "Photographs by James Robertson: Athens and Grecian Antiquities" (1853-1854). The portfolio was donated to the Benaki Museum Photographic Archive in 1989 by Rena Andreadi.  Details of the exhibition can be found here.

 

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