A civil engineer based in Grenoble, Félix Teynard traveled to Egypt in 1851-52 with the express purpose of updating the standard architectural reference on Egypt, Description de l'Égypte, a lavish publication of oversized engravings issued by Napoleon's team of savants between 1809 and 1829. Teynard photographed the sites from Cairo to Nubia with evident wonder at the engineering skills of the ancient architects and builders and had an uncommon grasp of the physicality of man-made constructions-their size and placement in space, their materials and decoration, and their state of conservation. Teynard's survey, 160 salted paper prints with accompanying text, was published from 1853 to 1858 as Égypte et Nubie: Sites et monuments les plus intéressants pour l'étude de l'art et de l'histoire. Fewer than a dozen complete sets have survived.
By the time Teynard set out for Egypt with a large-format camera, he was thoroughly accomplished in the waxed-paper negative technique, which had been perfected only the year before in Paris by Gustave Le Gray. One of the drawbacks of using paper negatives was that the paper fibers softened the picture's resolution. The best practitioners of the technique, however, turned its faults to advantage and organized their pictures around masses of deep shadow and suffused light, recognizing that a few well-chosen details could give dramatic relief to architectonic structures. This photograph is a masterpiece of the genre. It represents a Middle Kingdom rock-cut tomb at Beni Hasan (ca. 1900 B.C.), 105 miles upriver from Cairo. Within the bold composition of light and dark, Teynard placed the delicate form of a European bentwood cane against the column. Like a surveyor's measure, the cane indicates scale. It also functions as Teynard's personal signature, but unlike the graffiti to the right, it was temporary and did not deface the monument.