Exhibition

Proof: Maxime Du Camp’s Photographs of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa

October 23, 2023–January 21, 2024
Previously on view at The Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 852
Free with Museum admission

In October 1849, twenty-seven-year-old Maxime Du Camp—an aspiring journalist with big ambitions—left Paris to photograph sites across the eastern Mediterranean. Officially encouraged to exploit photography’s “uncontestable exactitude,” he returned to France a year and a half later with more than 200 paper negatives, from which 125 were selected to illustrate Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie (1852). This work, the first photographically illustrated book published in France, arguably established an aesthetic standard for documentary photography: its salted paper prints are rendered in cool, gradated tones that one contemporary critic described as “vaporous gray.”

The published photographs stand in stark contrast to several sets (each unique) that Du Camp privately printed before planning his book. These “proof prints” are noteworthy for their surprising range of warm colors, handwork, and a luminescence that recalls their Mediterranean origin. Unlike the book’s focus on monuments and ancient ruins, they also provide evidence of modern civilization in unfamiliar, arid landscapes. Proof is the first exhibition to focus on The Met’s collection of these earlier prints, including previously unseen and unpublished views from a portfolio and a small, handbound album. Offering an exceptional opportunity to compare these photographs to those published in 1852, the exhibition reveals that Du Camp’s ultimate project did not present objective proof of its Mediterranean subject, but rather a complicated view shaped by personal ambition, emergent technology, and the taste and temperament of its nineteenth-century European audience.

The exhibition is made possible by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

Maxime Du Camp (French, 1822–1894), Pyramid of Chephren (Khafre), viewed from the southeast (detail), December 10, 1849. Salted paper print from paper negative. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.376.19); Du Camp, Pyramid of Chephren (Khafre), Middle Egypt (detail), 1852. Salted paper print (Blanquart-Évrard process) from paper negative. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert O. Dougan Collection, Gift of Warner Communications Inc., 1981 (1981.1229.6.1)