Four gelatin silver prints, dated to the early 1920s, depicting full panoramic views of life in the Sahara. Three of the images contain gorgeous desert scenes, with local Bedouins guiding heavily loaded camels across the sand dunes. In the fourth photo, an urban backdrop shows a skyline dominated by multiple large domes and minarets. The wide and low shape of the domes and the octagonal rotundas belong to the Citadel of Cairo.
Identifying where exactly the other romantic images were taken is difficult due to the limited context within the photographs. What we can say for certain is that they were produced sometime in the early 1920s. The photos were printed by the iconic Orientalist studio Lehnert & Landrock, which was run by photographers Rudolf Franz Lehnert and Ernst Heinrich Landrock. In the early 20th century, they had offices in both Egypt and Tunisia and used the pristine desert landscapes as some of the romantic backdrops for their noted photographs. This attribution is confirmed by a Lehnert & Landrock logo and photo number in the bottom-left corner of at least three of the photographs (numbered 5050, 5071, 5083 in negative), and hand-written titles on the verso. Three of the photos also have the pencil note on the verso that says XMAS 1923.
Lehnert and Landrock were famous for producing evocative images of North African peoples, landscapes, and architecture for European audiences. Their success was tied to an overall interest in the Middle East that in part had been spurred on by the Victorian Era’s great voyages and discoveries but which also was closely related to the end of World War 1 and the slow and gradual collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The most common form by which L&L photographs were disseminated to their European public was through photographic monographs. For the less dedicated buyers, one could also acquire stand-alone gelatin prints, photogravures, and lithographic postcards.
Our photographs are perfect examples of the type of images that Lehnert and Landrock produced commercially during the 1910s and 20s. While their exact provenance has been lost to time, the most likely origin story is that these images were purchased as souvenirs in North Africa during a visit and then gifted to family members as Christmas presents later that year.
Regardless of their origin, these wonderfully evocative images represent not only a specific region, culture, and time but also a way of traveling and seeing the world that no longer exists today.
While Lehnert & Landrock produced an incredible number of images, they are associated with increased value and rarity. This is largely associated with a growing curatorial interest in recent years, which has manifested itself in a number of dedicated exhibitions at important museums such as the Getty, the V&A, and the Royal Academy of Arts.
A batch of partly identical images was sold by Christie’s as part of the André Derain Collection in November 2016.