Cairo to Constantinople Francis Bedford’s Photographs of the Middle East is a publication by The Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
This book is unique as it is the first to bring together dramatic images by royal photographer Francis Bedford, and the personal journal written by Prince Edward Albert (Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII). The book also examines some of the rare antiquities acquired by the Prince on his travels.
The Royal Family – Patrons of Photography
The Prince’s parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, were always quick to embrace new technology, and photography was no exception. They commissioned photographer Francis Bedford to join the royal party on this trip. Bedford was well-known to the Royal Family, having already fulfilled two earlier royal commissions. His dramatic images captured every aspect of the tour as the group journeyed from Egypt to Constantinople.
Often working in stifling heat in his small portable dark-room, Bedford produced more than two hundred negatives. He captured castles and crumbling architecture as well as landscapes and portraits of the royal party and the people they met.
Cairo to Constantinople Francis Bedford’s Photographs of the Middle East – About the Book
Cairo to Constantinople includes contributions from journalist, writer and broadcaster, John McCarthy; independent photo-historian Badr El Hage, and Alessandro Nasini, Collections Information Assistant at the Royal Collection Trust.
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Edward wrote his journal during the four-month royal tour of the Middle East from 6th February to 14th June 1862, linking his commentary to Bedford’s images. Bedford took the first photo on 20th February in Spalatro (Split, Croatia). The Prince’s journal entry states:
″Spalatro is a picturesque town, but is devoid of much interest except an old Roman tower & and old temple, which is now turned into a R[oman] C[atholic] Church. We visited both, but only remained half an hour on shore & then returned to the ship.″
The journal records the royal tour in every detail, sometimes describing the weather, or telling us about food, drink, and local customs. On 1st March 1862, the Prince described the journey to Cairo as very dusty and hot. He also reports that:
″the weather was beautiful, like August in England & we enjoyed the new scenes before us very much. We stopped at a small station half way to Cairo, to lunch (wh[ich] was ordered by the Viceroy) wh[ich] was succeeded by tchibouques [chibouks] & coffee.”
Author Sophie Gordon Speaks Exclusively to Decoded Past
Sophie Gordon is Senior Curator of Photographs for the Royal Collection Trust. Author of several books about nineteenth- and twentieth-century photography, she is a recipient of the Royal Photographic Society Award. Ms Gordon has also been honoured by the Colin Ford Award recognising her outstanding contribution to curatorship.
Decoded Past: How did Bedford get such sharp images?
Sophie Gordon: The technology that Francis Bedford was using was relatively new. It’s called the wet collodion process.
Decoded Past: Can you explain the process?
Sophie Gordon: It means that he was using glass plate negatives which are the same size as the prints. They were printed directly from contact with the negatives, and that means that you’re not losing any detail at all. It’s the same size as the negative, so everything on the negative is going to be visible in the print.
Decoded Past: Did he take all his equipment with him and develop the photos as he went along?
Sophie Gordon: Yes, the process, compared to what had gone before, was relatively quick and easy, but actually it was still pretty cumbersome by today’s standards. He would have had a little portable dark room with him. He had people carrying the glass plates, all the chemicals, his camera, possibly another camera as well, because of course none of this equipment would have been available in the Middle East if something went wrong. So he had back ups of everything.
Once he knew what he wanted to photograph, he would take a glass plate, coat it in light-sensitive chemicals, prepare it in his dark room, put in straight in the camera, make the exposure, which was about ten to twelve seconds, roughly, at this time. Then straight away, after this was done he’d take it out of the camera and go back to the dark room. You can see his dark room in one of the photographs… it’s a little white tent.
He would have developed the image, so he could see what was on the negative, and then he would have had to fix it, so that it was secure and able to be printed from. So that all took quite a long time.
Decoded Past: It must have been very unpleasant work.
Sophie Gordon: Yes, it used lots of chemical processes which would have had unpleasant fumes, and it all had to be done in a dark room that was shutting out the light. It was a very unpleasant environment to work in.
Decoded Past: Did he print the images on location?
Sophie Gordon: No – he would have done the printing back in the UK when he came back after the tour.
Time Travellers – See Egypt and the Middle East Through Edward’s Words and Bedford’s Images
Cairo to Constantinople Francis Bedford’s Photographs of the Middle East is a high-quality beautifully produced publication. It will appeal not only to amateur and professional photographers, but also to historians and interested observers of the Middle East. Step back in time to explore dramatic events in the region through Edward’s prose and Bedford’s images.