The monumental scale of Frith's folio, from which the present print was taken, made it unique for its time and almost unparalleled in the history of photography. A departure from his earlier multi-volume publication on the Middle East, Egypt, Sinai and Jerusalem marked the first time Frith included text by experts in the field. Each photo was issued with a letterpress description by the mother-and-son team of Sophia Poole and Reginald Stuart Poole. Both had lived in Cairo and were familiar with Egyptian history and culture; the latter was employed at the British Museum in the Antiquities Department and trained with one of the leading Egyptologists of the day.
A man of means by his early thirties, Frith made his initial trip to Egypt in 1856 as a gentleman amateur. While he was not the first to photograph there, he was the first to bring mammoth-plate collodion photography to the region. To use his mammoth-plate camera on site, Frith had a specially-constructed covered carriage that housed the camera and plates. The carriage also served as a makeshift darkroom, and its tracks are visible in the photograph included here. The use of collodion on glass posed tremendous problems in the dust and heat of the desert. The emulsion had to be applied to the glass plates in an ether-filled tent, at temperatures reaching 114˚. Frith described the experience in his Egypt and Palestine as follows: 'Now in a smothering little tent, with my collodion fizzing—boiling up all over the glass the instant that it touched—and, again, pushing my hand backwards, upon my hands and knees, into a damp, slimy rock-tomb to manipulate—it is truly marvelous that the results should be presentable at all' (quoted in Masterpieces of Photography, p. 118). The large scale and clarity of detail in the resulting prints was hitherto unseen in photographs of the Middle East.
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