These first photos of Jerusalem were taken in 1844 by the French photographer and painter Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (1804-1892), who was active in the Middle East. In 1844, Jerusalem was a small city with a population of 15,000 people on the outskirts of the Ottoman Empire. Remarkably, his photos were not discovered until the 1920s in a storage owned by him and only became well-known after eighty years.

Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, in the year 1840

Girault de Prangey studied painting in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts and in 1841 learned the daguerreotype process, possibly from Louis Daguerre himself or from Hippolyte Bayard. Girault de Prangey had a keen interest in the architecture of the Middle East and embarked on a tour of Italy and Eastern Mediterranean countries between 1841 and 1844, producing over 900 daguerreotypes of architectural views, landscapes, and portraits.

The latent image on a daguerreotype plate is developed by exposing it to the vapors released from mercury after it is heated to 75 degrees Celsius. The resultant visible image is then ‘fixed’ (made insensitive to further light exposure) by removing the unexposed silver iodide using concentrated and hot salt water. Later, a more effective ‘hypo’ solution (sodium hyposulfite, now known as sodium thiosulfate) was used instead.

Last update: 2024-01-01 19:11:38

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