Thursday, July 20, 2017


Benjamin Anderson, Robert G. Ousterhout, Palmyra 1885: The Wolfe Expedition and the Photographs of John Henry Haynes. Edinburgh: Cornucopia Books, 2016. Pp. 128. ISBN 9780956594877. $30.00.

Reviewed by Paul Kimball, Bilkent University (

Version at BMCR home site

Financed through the generosity of its eponymous benefactor and led by the clergyman and amateur Orientalist William Hayes Ward, the Wolfe Expedition to Babylonia traveled to Ottoman Mesopotamia in the spring of 1884 with the mission of identifying a promising site for an American excavation in the Near East. John Henry Haynes accompanied Ward as expedition photographer and field manager, joining his friend, the Classical epigrapher John Robert Sterrett, and a young Armenian translator, Daniel Z. Noorian. The volume under review features approximately two-thirds of the one hundred or so photographs taken by Haynes at Palmyra over the course of five days in April 1885 during the expedition's return journey to Beirut by way of Syria. Six (unnumbered) chapters offering background information and historical context precede the collection of images. The first gives an account of Haynes' life and career, the second recounts the genesis and organization of the expedition, the third introduces the history of Palmyra and its famous queen, Zenobia, and the fourth provides an overview of the city's topography and major monuments illustrated by several of Haynes' panoramas of the city. A fifth chapter discusses the various depictions of Palmyra from the first European visitors to the development of photography, and the sixth chapter describes the particulars of the expedition's visit and Haynes's methods while on site.

Of the plates that follow the final chapter, all but the first seven (plates 39-45) are organized into subheadings, but their titles do not appear in the table of contents. In order of appearance these subsections are dedicated to "Funerary Monuments," comprising both tower tombs and funerary sculpture from the private collection of the local governor (plates 47-52), "The Great Colonnade," by far the largest grouping of images (plates 53-75), focusing on the decumanus and its associated buildings from the third-century funerary temple in the west to the Monumental Arch and beyond to the Temple of Bel in the east. These include several views of the surrounding structures and landscape from the vantage point of the city center. The Temple of Bel and its precinct are the focus of the penultimate section and a single image of Qalaat Shirkuh, the twelfth/thirteenth-century CE fortification overlooking the city, concludes the volume. The publication of these photographs has twofold purpose. The first is to document the condition of Palmyra and its structures at the end of late nineteenth century, and no doubt many will turn to this collection with an eye to the history of the site especially in light of its capture and recapture by Islamic State forces over the past two years. The wanton demolition of such a significant quantity of Palmyra's in situ cultural heritage has attracted the interest of a wide audience, both professional and public, as evinced by the extensive press coverage of the fate of Palmyra's remains. 1 Haynes's images represent one of the largest early photographic dossiers of the site, and as such they complement earlier travel accounts and the views assembled by Haynes's predecessors. Yet despite the obvious significance of these' photographs, the authors do not exaggerate their documentary value. Haynes had neither the time nor inclination to assemble a comprehensive record of the extant remains , and indeed the authorstwice comment (pp. 35 and 64) on the paucity of detail he recorded in his logbooks while ranging over the site. The importance of Haynes's photography derives in part from what he did not record, i.e. the results of excavation and reconstruction that only commenced at the start of the twentieth century.2 Anderson and Ousterhout point out that two of Palmyra's best known monuments destroyed or severely damaged during the most recent occupation by Islamic State forces, the tetrapylon and the theater, were themselves twentieth-century reconstructions unavailable to Haynes's camera.

This brings us to the second purpose of this publication, namely to reconsider Haynes's own contribution to a uniquely American history of early archaeological photography. Palmyra 1885 is in many ways a companion and sequel to Ousterhout's 2011 study of Haynes's life and work, and a revised and expanded second edition of the latter text was published at the same time as the present volume.3 Having learned his métier as an assistant to the well-known photographer of the Athenian acropolis, William Stillman— as Anderson and Ousterhout observe —Haynes's photography inhabits a middle ground of sorts between "the documentary function of the architectural drawing and the artistic ambitions of the picturesque view, meant to capture a fleeting moment in the history of a site" (p. 54). The authors further note that this particular quality of Haynes's work is demonstrated by his images of the Temple of Bel in which local habitations and an associated cemetery feature prominently in the foreground only to be uprooted and relocated in 1930. The real value of Haynes's photographs thus results from their attention to the lived space, both ancient and contemporary, of Palmyra's urban fabric: they are not simply static commemorations of an ancient past. Anderson and Ousterhout connect this aspect of Haynes's style to the aesthetics of American landscape painting harking back to Stillman's own mentor, the painter John Ruskin.4 The chapter in which they evaluate both Haynes's debt to this tradition and the broader reception of Palmyra in visual culture from the late seventeenth to the late nineteenth century,(titled "Beasts, Men and Stones: Palmyra in Photography and Imagination") is perhaps the most insightful and informative part of the text.5 This discussion complements and to a degree serves as a foil to the Getty Research Institute's continuing online exhibition on Palmyra, which covers much of the same ground based on the Getty's extensive holdings, including fully accessible, digitized versions of Louis Vignes's collection of views of Palmyra from 1864 and the proof plates of volumes II and III of Louis-François Cassas' album of architectural engravings of the city published at the turn of the nineteenth century.6

As in the case of Ousterhout's earlier volume on Haynes, the images are beautifully reproduced on high-quality paper, but a hardbound version of both texts would have been welcome. This reviewer might have preferred a larger plan of the site on the inner flap of the front cover in place of Haynes's 1876 yearbook photograph, but that is a minor quibble. In sum, by calling attention to John Henry Haynes's sojourn at Palmyra in April of 1885, the authors have done a real service to those interested in the past and future of this important site, as well as to students of the history of American archaeology and archaeological photography.


1.   On the recent destruction of the city's monuments, sculpture, and funerary architecture, the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives (ASOR website) includes an indexed archive of weekly reports. A brief update on the situation after the March 2, 2017, recapture of the site by the Assad regime and its allies is also available.
2.   For the earliest German excavations at Palmyra, see Michael Rostovtzeff's review of Krenckner et al. Palmyra. Ergenbisse der Expeditionen von 1902 und 1917 in AJA 37 (1933) 183-186.
3.   Robert Ousterhout, John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Artist in the Ottoman Empire 1881–1900 rev. 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Cornucopia Books, 2016).
4.   For a biography of Stillman, see now Stephen L. Dyson, The Last Amateur: The Life of William J. Stillman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014). The comparison between Haynes and Stillman is instructive: both men had fraught relationships with the scholarly establishment, and both occupied consular posts (Haynes became the first American consul appointed in Baghdad) in lieu of academic positions for which they did not possess the required credentials. Dyson also notes that Stillman unsuccessfully supported Wolfe Expedition member John Sterrett's candidacy as director of the newly founded American School for Classical Studies in Athens (Dyson, p.196).
5.   Ousterhout revisited some of the material discussed in chapter five in a brief article earlier this year: Robert Ousterhout, "The Desert Discovery that Delighted the World" Cornucopia 55 (2017) 4-7.
6.   "The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra", curated by Frances Terpak and Peter Louis Bonfitto for the Getty Research Institute.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.