Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East

Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East is shown with the exhibition Gold at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 7 November 2014 – 22 February 2015.
Visitor information and tickets for The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace: www.royalcollection.org.uk, T. +44 (0)20 7766 7301.
#royaltour1862

Cairo to Constantinople - Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
Cairo to Constantinople – Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

This is definitely one for the diary. You can browse in half an hour or give it a 2 hour solid stint. For me it’s interesting as my background was working in television production in the Middle East. Sometimes I feel people think they have to be a pure intellect to appreciate these exhibitions. Absolutely not. I often take great pleasure in the most simple of observations, the porters and labourers sitting and taking a break, something we see every day of our lives. In addition one can only be impressed by the quality of the imagery given that these are photographed on the road and really with photography in its infancy.

Cairo to Constantinople - Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
Cairo to Constantinople – Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

Saying this its always a pleasure to visit the Queens Gallery as they just do things properly. From the research to the presentation it really is spot on.

Cairo to Constantinople - Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
Cairo to Constantinople – Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

A new exhibition Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East opening at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace this Friday (7 November) reveals the Prince’s journey through Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece in over 100 spectacular photographs.

Cairo to Constantinople - Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
Cairo to Constantinople – Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

In 1862, the 20-year-old Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (and the future King Edward VII), embarked on a tour of the Middle East, accompanied by the photographer Francis Bedford. The resulting images, produced little more than 20 years after the arrival of photography, were the first-ever visual record of a royal tour.

Isis-headed Columns in the Great Court of the Temple of Isis, Philae - Cairo to Constantinople - Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
Isis-headed Columns in the Great Court of the Temple of Isis, Philae – Cairo to Constantinople – Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

The Prince of Wales’s four-month tour, the first official royal tour of the Middle East, had been carefully planned by his parents to occupy him after university and before he was married. Despite Prince Albert’s sudden death just two months earlier in December 1861, Queen Victoria was determined that her son’s visit should go ahead. The Prince travelled in a manner unassociated with royalty at the time, by horse and camping in tents, and met rulers, politicians and other notable figures throughout his journey. He diligently recorded his travels in a private journal, which will be on show for the first time.

Portrait of an unknown man Karnak, 1862 - Cairo to Constantinople - Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
Portrait of an unknown man Karnak, 1862 – Cairo to Constantinople – Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

Photography of a royal tour was a new concept, inspired in part by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s avid interest in the medium. Francis Bedford had already impressed the Queen with his photographs of places associated with Prince Albert’s childhood in Germany, an earlier royal commission. In mid-February 1862, the Photographic News announced that the Prince of Wales was to be accompanied by ‘eight gentlemen only’, including Mr Bedford, on a tour to be undertaken ‘in as private a manner as possible’. The presence of a photographer was ‘the first public act which illustrates that the heir to England’s throne takes as deep an interest in photography as his late royal father’.
The main purpose of Bedford’s work was to capture historic and sacred landscapes – the young Prince and his companions appear in only three of the 191 surviving photographs. The rest of the photographs reflect a growing public demand for romantic images of biblical sites, Egyptian and Greek ruins, and mosques. By the 1860s leisure travel to the Middle East was increasing with the introduction of steamships to Alexandria in 1840.

The Colossi of Memnon, Thebes, 1862 - Cairo to Constantinople - Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
The Colossi of Memnon, Thebes, 1862 – Cairo to Constantinople – Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

H Cairo to Constantinople - Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
In his lifetime, Francis Bedford was considered one of the greatest British photographers, and on his return from the Middle East many of his photographs of the royal tour were exhibited to the public in a gallery on New Bond Street.
Bedford would have had to take a large amount of equipment with him, including plates, tripods, lenses, chemicals and a darkroom, as well as the camera itself.

The Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem 1862 - Cairo to Constantinople - Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
The Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem 1862 – Cairo to Constantinople – Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

Sophie Gordon, Royal Collection Trust, curator of the exhibition, said, ‘Today royal tours are widely photographed, and the pictures are transmitted instantly around the world. Bedford’s photographs were not seen by the public until over a month after the royal party’s return to England, but his presence on the tour was widely reported in the press. The intense interest in his work at the time shows just how innovative and ground-breaking a move it was to invite Bedford to accompany the tour.’

Writer and broadcaster John McCarthy, who has written the foreword to the exhibition publication, said, ‘The first thing that strikes me about Bedford’s photographs is how good they are. It is only 20 or 30 years after the invention of the medium, and yet the quality of the images is stunning. They manage to bring alive the places the royal party visited, capturing the majesty and romance of what were then largely unvisited sites. One hundred and fifty years on and the Middle East continues to hold our attention – for the wonderful sites, but also for the political landscape in which they are set.’

The Prince of Wales and Companions, Capernaum, 1862 - Cairo to Constantinople - Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
The Prince of Wales and Companions, Capernaum, 1862 – Cairo to Constantinople – Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

Publication: Cairo to Constantinople: Francis Bedford’s Photographs of the Middle East by Sophie Gordon, with an introduction by John McCarthy and contributions from Badr El Hage and Alessandro Nasini, is published by Royal Collection Trust, price £19.95.
Events: The talks, performances, workshops and courses accompanying the exhibition are listed in the What’s on guide, available from www.royalcollection.org.uk/whatson.
Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East is shown with the exhibition Gold at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 7 November 2014 – 22 February 2015.
Visitor information and tickets for The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace: www.royalcollection.org.uk, T. +44 (0)20 7766 7301.
#royaltour1862

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