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French 1831-1885


A bookbinder from St-Hippolyte-du-Fort, Bonfils travels to Lebanon in 1861 and 1864. He returns infatuated with the beauty of the country.
Apprenticed in photography by Niepce de St Victor, nephew of Nicephore Niepce, and encouraged to specialize in heliography, Bonfils opens a photography studio in 1865 in Ales in southern France.
In 1867 Bonfils moves to Beirut with his wife and son, where he begins his photographic career. During the next four years he produces an extraordinary collection of 15,000 prints from 591 negatives and 9000 stereoscopic views. His images are of Greece, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. He uses the wet collodion on glass process to capture monuments, landscapes and portraits. His wife, Marie-Lydie plays a large role in photographing female subjects. The Maison Bonfils is well known for commercial portraits and expands to branches in Jerusalem, Baalbek, Alexandria and Cairo.
In 1871 Bonfils presents his work to the S.F.P. (Societe Francaise de Photographie) and in 1872 publishes an album entitled Architecture Antique (Ducher press) in Paris. By 1876 he is back in Ales, where he undertakes his most ambitious work: a series of albums entitled Souvenirs d'Orient, sold on demand by his agents in Paris, Basel, London, Jerusalem...
Bonfils receives a medal at the Paris Expo of 1878, and in Brussels in 1883. In 1880 he opens a shop for photographic reproduction (phototypie) in Ales where he dies in 1885. Karl Baedeker's 1894 travel guidebook gives the Bonfils photographic dealership in Beirut special mention.
The photography of Bonfils is comparable in its sensibility, beauty and documentary value to that of archeologists and early travel photography enthusiasts.


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