British photographic history

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Snouck Hurgronje: Early photographs of 1885

Known as an adventurer, a scholar, and possibly a spy (!) - Dutchman, Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, (1857 - 1936) proved that he was also a pioneering photographer with his rare 1885 photographs/sound recordings of the holy city of Mecca.

Started life as a theology student at Lieden University, Netherlands, Hurgronje was later appointed as an adviser on the native affairs of colonial Netherlands East Indies. In 1880, he wrote his doctorate thesis entitled "Het Mekkansche Feest" (The Festivities of Makkah) which described the Haj pilgrimage and its customs.

In 1884, through a partial funding from the Dutch government, he was sent to Mecca/Jeddah. During this short but comprehensive stay, he observed and chronicled the daily lives of the local society through photos, written memoirs and sound recordings. Unfortunately, he was forced to leave earlier than intended after unfound accusations of his involvement in an attempt to steal a historical artifact.

His camera equipment wasn't wasted. After Snouck's departure, Al-Sayyid Abd al-Ghaffar, a local physician that the Dutchman had worked alongside, began using the camera, possibly becoming Mecca's first home-grown photographer. Al-Ghaffar continued sending his images to Snouck in The Netherlands. Many of the photographs were originally credited solely to Snouck but they are now jointly credited, with experts unable to tell who shot what.The images, archived by Leiden University Library, were published four years after Snouck's trip. Original copies of the album now sell for about $45,000, according to the gallery.

Under the patronage of Princess Reem Al-Faisal and in collaboration with Netherland’s Leiden University Library and Hes & De Graaf Publishers, this exhibition “Mecca — A Dangerous Adventure,” features re-photographed and re-produced 19th century platinum prints of the works of Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936).

Details of the Snouck Hurgronje article, including a slide show, can be found here, and the exhibition here.

Photos: Group portrait of sharif Yahya with camel slave and two lower sharifs; Dutch scholar Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje.

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