The Ancient Middle East: Photographs of Sand and Stone
Ancient Egyptians built monuments of stone the color of the desert that came from the red, green and black granite stone quarries of Aswan in Upper Egypt. Green date palms and clear, blue Nile waters were mere accents to the endless sands stretched across the landscape. When early photographers ventured to Egypt to make the first photographs, they carried heavy equipment strapped on donkeys, mixed chemicals to be painted onto glass plates in dark tents and exposed the imagery to the sun’s rays using printing-out-paper. It was a tedious process. The color of the photographs happened to resemble the color of desert sand—a tradition of photography and seeing was born.
Many decades after the early photographers, I began photographing those same ancient monuments along the Nile, and it seemed right to compose and print with a similar aesthetic. Although I was shooting what was then contemporary silver-halide based film and photographic papers, unconsciously I sought to depict these ancient places using composition and a viewpoint derived from these photographic pioneers. The ancient civilizations worked their way into my soul; thus, my photographic interpretation was an attempt to express them. The combination of Egyptian ancient Phoaronic art and early photography were somehow married, at least in my mind.
I began photographing in Egypt when I was studying Islamic art and architecture at the Center of Arabic Studies at the American University of Cairo in the late 1960’s. Weekly field trips acquainted me with the fascinating Fatimid mosques of Cairo. I bought camera gear to document the sites we studied, and discovered that photography and Carolyn Brown were meant for each other. Later I photographed in Upper Egypt for guide books on Egypt, and as my historic knowledge grew, I traveled and photographed across many countries in the Middle East to photograph the ancient world.
Forty-some years later, and although I no longer venture across Middle Eastern lands, I haven’t stopped making photographs. I will continue until both eyes stop working.
CAROLYN BROWN PHOTOGRAPHER