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Blogmo Day 3: Images of Gizeh

December 3, 2008

A few weeks back, I went to DC’s Eastern Market and found a old maps and pictures of Cairo.

While the map has a very clear source (even which edition of an atlas it came from), the two images of Cairo seemingly identical are backed on study cardboard. A note on the front says “Keystone View Company” and the caption reads “T Road to the Pyramids – Westward toward Gizeh from a Point near Cairo, Egypt.”

The dirt road in this black-and-white picture can’t possibly exist anymore from what I saw on my visit to the pyramids. It’s almost too perfect of a scene, like it was made up on the back-lot. Camels walk away from the the camera, towards the Giza pyramids standing in the far left background. Another group of camels walk along a Nile, or a stream that runs into it. A figure whose face you can’t see holds the camel in the center by the reigns.

But the real gem is the explanation on the back.

We have crossed the river Nile from Cairo, leaving the city behind us, and are facing west. It is nearly five miles from here to those world -famous pyramids on the edge of the vast yellow-brown sands of the Libyan desert.

It goes on to explain who created the Pyramids and the trees that line the dirt road – lebbek trees, planted by Ismail Pacha that make the road “shaded and delightful”.

Little do the peasants who dwell in these villages dream of the life which once swarmed in busy streets occupying these very fields before us. For here lay the residence of the splendid Pharaohs who built the pyramids.

The two pictures and their cardboard story are stereographs – cards that when viewed through a stereoscope creates a 3d version of the image. The text on the back takes that approach – You are there!

But what was the mysterious Keystone View Company? Or even stranger that the copyright is courtesy of “Underwood and Underwood”?

Turns out Underwood and Underwood were stereograph publishers, and the first to suggest selling stereographs in themed box sets. U&U went under in 1923 and all of its pictures went to Keystone. My Egyptian  picture was taken over 80 years ago and ended up in a series of world travel stereographs – all to be delivered to schools in the middle of the century. Somewhere since then, a lot of the stereographs ended up with my flea market seller and were restocked in subject-specific folders.

The originals? They’re part of the Keystone-Mast Collection at the University of California-Riverside, a collection of stunning photography – stereograph or not.

Now where can I find one of these?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Fiona permalink
    December 3, 2008 9:55 pm

    TIME TO RAID THE SMITHSONIAN!! Attttaaaaaaaack!!



  2. December 3, 2008 10:30 pm

    Ok, so can we talk about how this is the exact kind of research I do? I find old stuff and learn about who made them and how they were used and such. You should so do Book history with me in Toronto…yes?

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