Imagining the Islamic World: Early Travel Photography from the J. Brooks Buxton Collection

January 25 - May 20, 2012
East Gallery Annex

Prior to the invention of photography in the mid 19th-century, Western interest in the Middle East had been whetted by widespread knowledge of the Bible, and by such travel literature as Alexander William Kinglake's Eothen, and William Makepeace Thackeray's Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo. As a result, European and American travelers began to add Egypt and the Holy Land to their "Grand Tour" itineraries, and they in turn began to publish reminiscences and sketches that stimulated further interest in the Middle East and the Islamic world. This growing fascination with the Islamic world, coupled with the invention of photography and its eventual recognition as an art form, marked the beginning of the market for travel photography.

Imagining the Islamic World presents a selection of late 19th- and early 20th-century travel photographs from the collection of J. Brooks Buxton: a world traveler and former resident of several of the countries represented in this exhibition. Because of Islamic prohibitions against graven images, it was chiefly Westerners that made and collected these early photographs of the Middle East.

These photographs functioned not only as surrogates for travel, but they also spurred curiosity and inspired Westerners who flocked to the Islamic world to visit the monuments of the ancient and medieval past. Since then, however, many of the monuments have been altered through architectural restoration, damaged, or, in some cases, destroyed. These photographs offer a rare historical counterpoint to the contemporary photographs on view in Persian Visions.

This exhibition was organized by the Fleming Museum of Art, with generous support from the Kalkin Family Exhibitions Endowment Fund.