Salt Crystals in the Tomb of Senenmut, winter/spring 1927
Harry Burton (English, 1879–1940)
The Egyptian Expedition of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gelatin silver print; 9 x 6 3/4 in. (22.9 x 17.2 cm)
In January 1927, the Egyptian Expedition uncovered a tomb entrance in the corner of a quarry near Hatshepsut's temple. As he walked down the dark, steep, seemingly endless corridor that led to the first chamber, Herbert Winlock, the expedition's field director, saw the sparkle of salt crystals growing out from all directions. Some looked like huge molars, others like angel hairs, the longest of which he estimated to exceed three feet.
Burton was systematic in his application of photography to archaeology, producing an extensive (if generally rather dry) record of excavations, objects, and royal tomb painting. Occasionally, he spotted something unexpected and momentarily departed from his assignment in order to make a picture so strange and eloquent that even the Surrealists would have been intrigued. Like Man Ray's contemporaneous Dust Breeding (a photograph of Marcel Duchamp's Large Glass under a blanket of dust), Burton's photograph measures the passage of time in the infinitesimally slow accumulation of incidental matter.