Under lockdown, travel photography fueled our jealousy, longing, and admiration. For travelers back in the 1800s, photographs were important in another way: “You might have gone to that place, but you couldn’t take a picture of it, so you buy one to show people back home,” said Jamie Allen, an associate curator at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York.
An upcoming exhibit looks at the museum’s extensive collection of travel and tourism images through the years. Lilyan Jones is the project cataloger for the Alden Scott Boyer Collection at the Eastman Museum. Working with the museum’s photography collection, she goes through over 13,000 items that were given to the museum, some of which range from the very beginning of photography to the 1950s.
“I chose this theme because at the time I was starting to work on this, we were stuck inside. I thought it would be nice to look at pictures from all over the world,” Jones told BuzzFeed News. “There are a lot of early views of Egypt, people climbing the pyramids; there’s also early views of India and Japan and even Niagara Falls.”
The George Eastman Museum was named after the creator of the Kodak company. Eastman was a pioneer in film and photography, and the museum fittingly claims to be the world’s first focused solely on photography.
“Early travel photography was going to be seen by people who weren’t able to travel themselves,” Allen said. “Now that travel has opened up, you can access 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 don’t typically get shown. Of the 450,000 total items in the photography department, she said, “some of these photographs don’t get to see the light of day. There are photographs by Ansel Adams that are more surprising, and this gives you an opportunity to look at other things that a photographer did than just what they’re famous for.”
She added, “Tourist sites weren’t so prescriptive back then. In the early days, you wouldn’t have your own camera, so the person who is making the image is a professional photographer, and you’re purchasing that image from them or from a store.”
Here, we looked at some of our favorites from this show, which include photographs from over 100 years ago.