in the Footsteps of E. H. Palmer
& C. F. Tyrwhitt Drake's
Historical Journey in the Negev
Hecht Museum, University of Haifa
In 1869–70, explorers E. H. Palmer and C. F. Tyrwhitt Drake embarked on a journey across the Negev for a wide-ranging archaeological, historical, and environmental survey initiated by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF). The area was pristine in terms of research, mainly owing to the many dangers that awaited travellers venturing there. Palmer and Drake succeeded in crossing the entire Negev alone, and also in bringing back scientific evidence and valuable findings published by Palmer in his book The Desert of the Exodus (1871).
Drake, who was also a photographer, bequeathed a unique and riveting record of the region. His photographs, using the technique of wet collodion on glass negatives, document the foremost archaeological monuments in the Negev. These photographs remain among the earliest known images of the Negev, and for the first 30 years, after they were taken, they were the only ones. Thus they constitute a rare and valuable historical document.
Almost 150 years after Palmer and Drake’s historic expedition, Israeli artist Dror Maayan has traced their footsteps and photography at the same sites: Shivta, Nessana, and Avdat. The photographer used original 19th-century cameras (the earliest dating to 1875) and made the negatives out of glass, or the positives out of metal, using the now rare technology of wet collodion. He developed the photographs immediately after photographing at the sites themselves, in a dark tent, exactly as his two predecessors had done all through their trek.
This special art exhibition is a journey that transcends time. It begins with Palmer and Drake, two adventurers who left us the earliest ever photographic record of the Negev Desert. It continues with the scholarly quest for an answer regarding the collapse of Byzantine society in the course of the 7th century CE; and it remains the core of archaeological, historical, geographic, and climatic research today. Last, is the journey of Dror Maayan, a contemporary artist, who set out to trace Palmer and Drake’s path and create photographs, using the singular array of early photographic techniques, but with an artistic approach that is his alone. This was in order to blur the border between past and present, art and research, ancient and modern. This creation of his links in an unusual and rare manner between the research campaigns of the explorers of the Negev, the beginning of the age of photography and archaeology of today.