Under lockdown, travel photography has fueled jealousy, longing and admiration. For 19th-century travelers, photographs were important in another way: “You may have gone to that place, but you can’t take a picture of it, so you buy one to show people back home,” said Jamie Allen, associate curator at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York.
An upcoming exhibition takes a look at the museum’s extensive collection of travel and tourism photographs through the years. Lillian Jones is the project cataloger for the Alden Scott Boyer Collection at the Eastman Museum. Working with the museum’s photography collection, I’ve reviewed more than 13,000 items that have been delivered to the museum, some of them ranging from the beginning of photography to the 1950s.
“I chose this subject because by the time I started working on it, we were stuck inside. I thought it would be cool to see pictures from all over the world,” Jones told BuzzFeed News. “There are a lot of early views of Egypt, people climbing the pyramids; There are also early views of India, Japan, and even Niagara Falls.”
The George Eastman Museum is named after the founder of the Kodak Corporation. Eastman was a pioneer in the field of film and photography, and the museum claims to be the first museum in the world to focus solely on photography.
“Early travel photography would have been seen by people who couldn’t travel themselves,” Allen said. “Now that travel has opened up, you can get to more places and see more things. Our definition of travel photography has changed.”
Allen said the goal of the exhibition is to pull gems from the museum’s collection that are not normally on display. Of the 450,000 items in the photography department, she said, “Some of these photos don’t see the light of day. There are Ansel Adams photos that are more surprising, and that gives you a chance to look at other things the photographer has done beyond what he’s famous for.”
She added, “Tourist spots weren’t mandatory at the time. In the early days, you didn’t have your own camera, so the person who makes the picture is a professional photographer, and you buy that picture from him or a store.”
Here, we took a look at some of our favorites from this show, which includes photos from over 100 years ago.