The Photographs of the American Palestine Exploration Society.

Author:Long, Burke O.
Position:Book review
 
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The Photographs of the American Palestine Exploration Society. By Rachel Hallote, Felicity Cobbing, and Jeffrey B. Spurr. The Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, vol. 66. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2012. Pp. xix + 352, illus. $89.95. [Distributed by ISD, Bristol, Conn.]

This volume contains important archival material, principally photographs taken by Tancrede Dumas that document the early history of the American Palestine Exploration Society (APES) and its second and most ambitious survey expedition to Palestine in 1875. Introductory chapters offer a compact, but substantial history of the APES and its expeditions, touch upon political and professional tensions between the APES and the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF), and compare the work of Dumas with other producers of Holy Land views, such as Felix and Adrien Bonfils. Appendices contain 1) a cross-referenced index of relevant photographic collections; 2) a list of APES staff and committee members in 1875; 3) a copy of the firman authorizing its expeditionary work; 4) reproductions of documents held by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) that are related to the APES; 5) a list of Dumas photographs reproduced as engravings in Selah Merrill's East of Jordan (1881), and 6) an index of maps belonging to the APES archives.

The APES hired Tancrede Dumas, a commercial photographer based in Beirut, to accompany surveyor James C. Lane and archeologist Selah Merrill on the 1875 expedition. He was to make a visual record of sites that the team visited. Later, the Society distributed a Catalogue of Photographs, intending to sell a collection of one hundred large format prints to recoup some of the Society's costs. However, the expedition and its photographic project ultimately failed. The APES published no final report or survey map. The expedition lacked adequate funding and its chief investigators relied upon poor survey techniques. A few photos appeared in scattered publications, but only a handful of the portfolios the Society hoped to sell were printed. In retrospect, that is no surprise. Few of the chosen images were of familiar biblical locations, and few would have proven competitive in the marketplace, which at the time favored pictures that satisfied a desire to reclaim the Holy Land as a romanticized space of spiritual and cultural engagement. Though some of Dumas' photographs are well composed and taken in optimum lighting conditions, many are of...

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