(Bibliothèque Orientale) Antoine Poidebard, Deux petits écoliers de Tokat, c. 1906

Photography Collection Of The Oriental Library Of The Saint Joseph University

By Saint Joseph University

From 22 January, 2015
To 11 February, 2015

A unique heritage for Lebanon and the Middle East

The Oriental Library of the Saint Joseph University has a collection of 70 000 photos made by generations of Jesuit fathers who, since the nineteenth century and as part of their mission and their personal research, have accumulated a rich collection of photographs on archaeology, ethnography or history. There is also a significant collection of photographs from the nineteenth century signed by Bonfils, Tancrède Dumas, Felicio Beato or James Robertson. This collection represents an invaluable source of documentation for the history of those countries where the Jesuit fathers exercised their apostolate (Lebanon, Syria, Armenia, Egypt), as well as the history of photography in the Middle East. In fact, practically all examples of the photographic art are represented here from collodion film through silver and albumin prints, glass plates of various sizes to flexible supports or paper. Through a partnership with the Boghossian Foundation, the Oriental Library will be able to develop ways to protect this unique heritage and showcase it through a database for consultation, traveling exhibitions, publications, conferences and other means of communication.

Portraits of the East

This exhibition presents a selection of thirty photographic portraits of the hundreds made by the Jesuit fathers during their stay in the Middle East as members of the missions in Armenia, Syria and Lebanon in the first half of the twentieth century. This is usually close-up photographs of people where the facial expression is clearly displayed and where the subject(s) face(s) before the camera in a pose set up by the photographer. What idea did the Bedouin from the Syrian steppes, the Circassian horseman from Asia Minor, the Armenian schoolchildren from Tokat or the peasant from Mount Lebanon make of themselves, at a time when photography was not yet widespread in these countries? The conditions under which the portraits were made may explain the natural aspect of the characters facing the camera. Several Jesuits excelled in the art of portraiture, especially Guillaume de Jerphanion, Antoine Poidebard, Pierre de Vrégille, Joseph Delore and Henri Charles, all French nationals. But the way they look at the East through these pictures is fundamentally different from that of professional European photographers who reconstructed Oriental types in their studio with an imaginary décor. These religious men, who have spent most of their careers in the Middle East and generally speak the language, have a much more intimate knowledge of the environment and the traditions in which the characters in front of their camera evolve. Anonyme

Journey to the East

In the early 1860s, three associates, the photographer Ludovico Wolfgang Hartle, the journalist Charles Lallemand and the publisher Varroquier announced an extensive publishing program of albums entitled The Universal Gallery of Peoples” aiming to “reproduce through photography the rapidly disappearing national costumes due to the progress of civilization, to preserve for artists the memory of that which was beautiful and quaint.” Only a small part of their ambitious project was completed. The photography library of the Beirut Oriental Library has a very rare copy of one of their albums, devoted to Syria (that is to say, Syria and Lebanon today). The album, which dates from 1864-1865, contains 36 pictures boards, including twenty exhibited here. These prints are on albumen paper, colored by hand and pasted on cardboard. Each board features the embossed stamp of Charles Lallemand. In order to introduce some variety of the fashions, photographs were taken in three different regions. The first is that of Zouq Mikaël, a large Maronite Christian village north of Beirut, which in the nineteenth century was very famous for its production of fabrics. The second selected region is that of Schoueifat, a village south of Beirut: the Druze population was at that time the second largest population of Mount Lebanon. The third and final area covered is that of the city of Damascus, also well renowned for its production of various textiles.


169 Gallery
Mkhalassiye Street, Saifi Village


From 22 January, 2015
To 11 February, 2015

12:00pm - 8:00pm