Here is a stunning book I’ve been wanting to share with you for a long time. It’s on loan from friends Mike and Saba who picked it up at an antique book and print shop in Lakefield, Ontario. Seen from the colonial perspective of the 19th century, the photographs and subjects of this book are awe-inspiring but its captions while on occasion philosophical are more often derogatory or obtuse. Nonetheless, it demands a good, long look.
Around the World with a Camera (ca. 1894)
The text transcribed from the pedantic, hand-written note provided by the seller:
This copy lacks title-page and prelims., so is a little difficult to pin-point. Others with this title and format, however, were compiled by the staff of Leslie’s Magazine, New York. Those found date from around 1910 to 1920. The photographs and information herein are obviously earlier. 128 leaves, 256 photos. Unpaginated. With detailed commentary providing a fascinating insight into the world and mind-set of the late 19th century.
Captions below are abridged.
THE DEAD SEA, PALESTINE The Dead Sea presents a scene of most desolate grandeur, seen on a clear day with its perpendicular cliffs rising, veiled in the bluest of mists caused by the never-ceasing evaporation from the Sea. Into it flows the Jordan, but it has no outlet, nor can it have, for the Dead Sea is lower than any known body of water. If we can believe this is where Soddom and Gomorrah once stood. You may try to drown yourself in its deep waters, but you will fail, for you cannot sink. No craft is there upon its waters, nor do the Arabs want any. No fish can live in it, neither shells nor coral exist; but on its borders grow the Sodom apples—fair to the sight, but bitter to the taste.
MODERN HULA DANCE The mildness of the climate and abundance of flowers added to the generous kind-heartedness of the natives, gives a touch of sentiment to the fetes celebrated here, unknown to the inhabitants of the colder climes. The Hula Dance, in its modern form, is a national entertainment. The dance consists of a rhythmic motion of the body, the girls chanting monotonously while they extend their hands to the right and left, often accompanied by the music of the Hula drum. At the left in the back-ground is the leader. He is called the “National Dandy,” and fills a place very similar to the Court Jester in medieval days.
BIG TREES, CALIFORNIA These trees in the Mariposa Grove are the oldest and most stupendous vegetable products on the globe. There seems to be no convincing and plausible theory of their origin, but that these monster Sequoias are the world’s patriarchs, no one doubts. Some botanists date their birth far back of the earliest human history; none estimate their age is less than eighteen hundred years. Perchance their growth saw the awkward, thundering, mastodon canter over the hills. The largest standing tree is the Grizzly Giant. It’s bark is nearly two feet thick. If it was cut-off smoothly fifty horses could easily stand, or sixteen couples dance upon the stump.
TURKS AT PRAYER The Turks are not ashamed of their religion, or the public exhibition of it, for the devout Moslem minds not the place, whether in the Midway Plaisance, the crowded streets or alone in the dessert. At sunrise, noon and sunset, he falls upon the ground, places his hands to the lobes of his ears, and with his face turned toward the east, the direction of ”Holy Mecca” and the tomb of the Prophet, he prostrates himself, repeating invocations to the Great God and Mohammed, who is his prophet. [Islam] A religion that numbers one hundred and eighty millions of adherents, or more than one-sixth of the human race, and yet is the youngest religion in the world.
NATIVE DANCERS, JAVA The island of Java is owned by the Dutch, and is about the size of Iowa, yet it contains twenty millions of natives. Its scenery is most picturesque, its volcanoes and earthquakes most violent. A people with a mixture of religions and customs that are strange and fantastic. Nearly all festivities are celebrated by dance, religious or secular, for to dance gracefully is expected in every rank. The dance here represented is performed only by the attendants of the sovereign or hereditary prince; a figure danced by four persons with great decorum. Their dress is of ancient origin, the “tajih” or petticoat, in silk of different colors; a head-dress composed of plates of gold, ornamented with diamonds.
BULL FIGHTERS, MEXICO Every traveler in Spanish countries feels it his duty to see a Bull Fight, and every writer feels it his duty to describe this time-honoured festival. The most important personage of the performance is the matador or slayer, for to him belongs the dangerous task of killing the maddening animal. Years of study and practice are required in order to attain distinction in this dangerous sport. Among the Spaniards the love of bull-fighting amounts to madness, and their enthusiastic enjoyment of this thoroughly national sport is unlike anything to be seen in northern countries. The excitement becomes intense as the climax draws near. When the wounded horse turns and flies from the pursuing bull, then it is the time for the picador to show his skill and nerve amid the deafening cheers of the spectators.
OPIUM SMOKERS, SOO-CHOO, CHINA The history of the opium habit is humiliating to all who value humanity and honor, but it has taken a vital hold upon the Chinese race, and is indulged equally in the Imperial palace and in the huts of the poor. Opium is first taken as a pleasure, its first breath wafting one into an Elysian dream, fascinating and intoxicating. It soon becomes a fatal necessity, and the man that smokes for one or two hours a day for a week or more, has become a helpless slave who is willing to sell his wife, home and children, and who will end his existence in suicide. In Soo-Choo, forty-five years ago, there were five or six opium dens; now there are as many thousands of them. Now the poppy crop surpasses the wheat crop in value.
//// PART II of this post, with more amazing images, to come later this week…