Fine Arts Library

Middle East & Islamic Photographs


Félix Bonfils, Fountain, Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria. BonPSyrl.005.

The Fine Arts Library’s visual collections contain more than 150,000 photographs and slides documenting Islamic art and architecture, as well as ethnographic views that provide cultural context. The photograph collections are exceptionally strong in albumen silver prints produced by commercial studios in the latter half of the 19th century. These images are complemented by the photographic output of the first generation of scholars of Islamic art history, such as K.A.C. Creswell and Ernst Herzfeld, taken with an explicitly documentary intent. Most prominent is the Harvard Semitic Museum Photographic Archives, developed at the Semitic Museum between 1891 and 1992, and transferred to the FAL in 1995, comprising over 38,000 images in a wide variety of formats. Other Middle East collections include exceptional photographs by prominent 19th century photography studios such as Maison Bonfils and Antonio Beato. The collection includes professional photographers’ work from more recent decades, which provides a striking contrast to the photos of the pre-World War I era. These photographs are augmented by extensive collections of picture postcards from the height of their production, 1890-1930.

Nearly all of these photographic collections are represented in HOLLIS at the collection level. In addition some images have been digitized and can be viewed in HOLLIS or HOLLIS Images. Finally over 5,000 images, are available through the ArchNet Digital Library, a project of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

  • For further information and assistance, please contact Joanne Bloom, Photographic Resources Librarian, András Riedlmayer, Bibliographer for Islamic Art and Architecture or Amanda Hannoosh Steinberg, Visual Resources Librarian for Islamic Art & Architecture, Fine Arts Library