Ernest Benecke (English, active France, 18171894)
Salted paper print from paper negative; 6 3/4 x 8 1/2 in. (17 x 21.5 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2005 (2005.100.257)
Until the discovery in 1992 of 143 photographs by Ernest Benecke, including this one, only a handful of images by him were known. Born to an Anglo-German family of textile merchants, Benecke managed the family's wool trading operations in Lille, France, and it was no doubt there that he learned to photograph.
Whether for business (the firm had a branch in Alexandria) or simply as a young man's grand tour, Benecke traveled throughout Egypt and the Mediterranean in 1852 armed with a camera and a surprisingly humane spirit. Maxime Du Camp and Félix Teynard had photographed there shortly before him and J. B. Greene would soon after, but these photographers focused almost exclusively on the monuments and landscape. Benecke, instead, photographed the villagers he met and did so with such sensitivity and ease that his images, beyond having ethnographic value, are intimate and unaffected portraits. Here, the children of Kalabshah, softly rendered by Benecke's paper negative and salted paper print, seem innocent echoes of their sculpted ancestors carved on the walls of the nearby temple.