A recently opened exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art features the daguerreotypes of Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, a Frenchman who spent three years traveling around the Near East using the new technology to take pictures. Among them are twelve photographs of Jerusalem. Karen Chernick writes:
Girault de Prangey began his journey in Rome and crisscrossed the Mediterranean coastline before arriving in Jerusalem on May 21, 1844—two months later than he had hoped, having originally planned to be there for Easter celebrations. When he finally reached the Old City, he captured a comprehensive tourist checklist: panoramic views of the walled ramparts, the Damascus and Lion gates, the Pool of Bethesda, the Dome of the Rock, the churches of the Holy Sepulcher and Nativity, the Moroccan Quarter, Robinson’s Arch, and the tombs in the Valley of Josaphat outside Jerusalem. . . .
Girault de Prangey wasn’t the first photographer to bring a camera and light-sensitized plates to Jerusalem; photography came to Ottoman-ruled Palestine the year it was invented, in 1839. For centuries, European artists had painted the ancient hilltop city in countless religious artworks without ever having seen it. As soon as Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre released his eponymous new mode of image production in 1839, European photographers flooded the region to capture it and bring their records home. . . .
Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet used the new technology to create the first photographs of Jerusalem in early November 1839, just three months after the announcement of the daguerreotype. He was quickly followed by Pierre-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière, who photographed Jerusalem in February 1840.
These early photographs were used as source material for European book illustrators, but most survive now only in their translated medium as etched engravings. Only Girault de Prangey’s daguerreotypes, which he stored meticulously in custom-made wooden boxes, have survived.