The Turkish-born photographer Pascal Sébah (1823–1886) and the successor studio Sébah & Joaillier (1888–1908) were among the chief purveyors of images of Egypt and Turkey to American tourists. In Ascension de la grand pyramide printed by Pascal Sébah’s studio, Western tourists clamber up the massive blocks of the Great Pyramid of Giza, pushed and pulled by Egyptian guides. Scaling the pyramids was a centerpiece of the journey to Egypt. It offered spectacular views of the pyramids, the Nile, and the city of Cairo in the distance. In the photograph, bodies pressed to stone, and the closeness of the camera to the blocks—which creates a startlingly airless composition—marketed Egypt as the place where travelers could intimately and physically come into contact with the past. Numbers of obliging locals provided reassurance that the Holy Land was safe for tourism. This print bears the signature of Pascal Sébah’s brother Cosimi, who took over the studio after Pascal’s death. The negative was likely created by the Frenchman Emile Béchard, however, who worked for the Sébah studio in Egypt.
Fellahine by Sébah & Joaillier depicts a beautiful “peasant woman” leaning out of a mashrabiyah, a protruding latticework window screen found on traditional Islamic homes, such as those in the medieval sections of Cairo. The costumed woman in the open mashrabiyah was another popular theme for tourist photography in Egypt. It indulged a fantasy of access to the private life of Egyptians, particularly the sultry world of the harem, invisible to the foreigner passing on the street since the intricate carving on mashrabiyahs made them impermeable to the gaze of outsiders. Sébah & Joaillier clearly staged the picture indoors in the studio. The viewer of Fellahine encounters the woman at eye-level, an impossible perspective because mashrabiyahs were located on the upper stories of a building. In addition, the woman’s black veil adds a gratuitous touch of exoticism; it would not have been necessary to wear a veil within the private quarters of the home.
Émile Béchard (French, active late 19th century), published by Pascal Sébah (Turkish, 1823–1886), Ascension de la grand pyramide, 1880s. Mounted albumen print, bound in album, Cairo / Nubia, vol. 2. Russell Sturgis Photograph Collection, Kranzberg Art & Architecture Library, Washington University in St. Louis.
Sébah & Joaillier (Turkish photography studio, active 1888–1908), Fellahine, after 1883. Albumen print, 8 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. Gift of Laurie Wilson, Robert Frerck, and family, 2015.