Algeria, Berbers, culture, Desert, education, Felice Beato photographer, France, history, Kabyls, Neurdein Freres, Paris World Fairs in 1889 and 1900, photography, Qued El-Outaia, Sahara, Saharan Desert, Tuaregs, Tunesia
The Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century were rich in discoveries of unknown parts of the globe. Of particular interest to Europeans were the parts of Africa and Asia under Colonial control. This period started with the discovery of Japan in the 1850’s by Commodore Perry for the Western powers and became wider known through the photography, for example, of Felice Beato an enterprising Italian. Closer to home the French Empire drew the attention of a number of early photographers both English and French who went on discovery tours in Egypt and other parts of Africa.
The Neurdein Brothers, Etienne (1832- after 1915) and Louis Antonin (1840 – after 1915) sons of an early photographer named Jean Cesar Neurdein about whom little is known. The two sons took numerous trips throughout the then French Northern African lands particularly the Saharan Desert and Algeria in the 1870’s. After 1880 with the spread of the postcard craze they almost exclusively devoted themselves to high quality travel postcard photos for public and educational use, as well as, working for the French government photographing various types of monuments. Certainly they were not the only photographers and publishers of this type of material. They became so successful in this endeavor that they were awarded the privileged stature of the official photographers for the Paris World Fairs in 1889 and 1900.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, culture was influenced dramatically by adventure and travel stories in literature, and society acquired a taste for all thing “Oriental” from ceramics, sometimes wrongly named Persian or Moorish, to carpets and clothing accessories, as well as, textiles. Access to the newly established museums and those same World Fairs with their exotic pavilions helped to achieve this as well. The Neurdein brothers traveled to Canada and the United States also to document the “New World” and frontier wilderness.
Due to the large amount of images from the Arab world they photographed, part of our knowledge of the customs and indigenous peoples like the Berbers, Tuaregs, Kabyles of that period between 1870-1880 until circa 1920-30 has been preserved. The Neurdein postcard images are real photographs, marked PND after 1880, they are usually numbered on the bottom left with the PND mark on the right and in this particular case with a perforation from a booklet on the left side. The backsides have a so called divided back for correspondence and the address. A printed inscription Anciens Etab. Neurdein et Cie-E. Crete succ, Corbeil-Paris, 52 Av. de Breteul Paris. Well over 50,000 images are said to be preserved and they are considered the best technically proficient images available of that part of the world today. We will share some of these with you here from our own archives.
With recent events taking the world and military troops back in the desert on the the way to Mali in support of a dubious government there is a renewed interest in the photography of this area.
Good reads on the subject matter would be the following books:
John Hannavy’s Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography
Ken Jacobson’s Odalisques and Arabesques, orientalist photography 1839-1925
Eric Milet’s Oriental Photographs 1870-1950