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The Pharaoh's Photographer

Harry Burton, Tutankhamun, and the Metropolitan's Egyptian Expedition

September 11, 2001–March 3, 2002

Chosen from the archives of the Department of Egyptian Art, some sixty photographs taken between 1918 and 1939 by members of the Metropolitan Museum's Egyptian Expedition are on view. A collaboration between the Department of Egyptian Art and the Department of Photographs, the exhibition presents these images both in their context as important documents of the Museum's excavations and as works of artistic merit that deserve a place in the history of photography. The majority of the photographs are by Harry Burton (1879–1940), the outstanding archaeological photographer of his day.

Having worked as both a photographer of Italian paintings and as an excavation director in Egypt, Harry Burton was hired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1914 to make a photographic record of ancient Egyptian monuments at Thebes—including architecture, reliefs, and wall paintings—and to serve as the official photographer for the Museum's excavation team. His ability to convey the atmosphere of archaeological discovery was unsurpassed, whether in portrait-like images of Egyptian coffins or in the poignant scene of a carefully laid-out funerary offering.

When the tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered in 1922, the Museum's Egyptian Expedition offered the services of its staff to Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, and Burton spent the next eight years photographing the tomb and its treasures—some of his best-known work.

In the early 1920s, Burton learned to operate a motion picture camera, producing some of the earliest documentary film footage of life in the Nile valley. On continuous view in the exhibition is a short program of this work, including footage documenting the Museum's Egyptian Expedition, the removal of objects from Tutankhamun's tomb, and scenes of daily life in Egypt.

 

Related Exhibition

Some of the earliest camera images of Egypt's dramatic landscapes, exotic inhabitants, and imposing monuments are displayed in Along the Nile: Early Photographs of Egypt (on view September 11–December 30, 2011).