Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Captain Tristram Speedy: Travel Photography At Bonhams

Why would I mention Bonhams, an auction house, on The Travel Photographer's blog?

Well, it's because Bonhams is holding an auction of a rare photographic album of 180 Ethiopian images by Julia Margaret Cameron, Felice Beato and others. These images include a number of self portraits of Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy(1836-1910), a well-known English explorer and adventurer during the Victorian era, who was also known by his Amharic name 'Báshá Félíka'.

He was a fascinating character who was an Indiana Jones of his time, with a long association with India, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Born in Meerut (India), Captain Speedy was a red-haired bearded man 6'5" tall, who learned to speak Amharic, adopted Ethiopian native dress, and was photographed by Cameron in various guises such as a Bedouin chief, a Nubian chief, a Nubian warrior and much more. He was the inspiration for a number of popular books.

I am enormously interested in news like that because it merges history, Africa, Asia, adventurism, exploration and photography. Despite my abhorrence of colonialism, I consider men such as Richard Francis Burton and now, Tristram, as quintessential eccentric explorers, as orientalists and ethnologists, and as remarkable linguists with an extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures.

They just don't make men that way anymore.

For those who don't know Julia Margaret Cameron: she was a British photographer born in Calcutta, known for her portraits of celebrities of the time. Her photographic career was short, spanning eleven years of her life (1864–1875), and got her first camera when she was 48 as a gift from her daughter.

As for Felice Beato (1832-1909), he was an Italian–British photographer, and one of the first people to take photographs in East Asia and one of the first war photographers. His work provides images of such events as the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the Second Opium War.

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