Félix Bonfils

Photographer of the Middle East

Portrait de Félix Bonfils (1831-1885) (1880/1885) by Atelier BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

A family adventure

Félix Bonfils was a bookbinder in Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort before becoming a photographer around 1860 in Alès, in the Gard department of France.

Portrait de Marie-Lydie Cabanis Bonfils (1837-1918), Atelier Bonfils, 1880/1885, From the collection of: Bibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes
,
Adrien Bonfils (1861-1929), Atelier Bonfils, 1880/1885, From the collection of: Bibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes
Show lessRead more

After several stays in Beirut, he settled there in 1867 with his wife Lydie and their children, Adrien and Félicie, to launch a family-run photography studio.

Athènes, temple de Jupiter olympien et le mont Licabette (1880/1890) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

It flourished until its ownership changed in 1918. In the early 1870s, the workshop's catalog included 15,000 prints, covering numerous historical sites in more than 10 countries, including Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

Athènes, temple de Jupiter olympien et le mont Licabette (1880/1890) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Temple of Olympian Zeus and Mount Lycabettus, Athens

Page de titre du recueil de photographies (1880/1885)Bibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Holy places

Bonfils took many pictures of the holy places of Palestine. He published several albums—like this one, aimed at tourists and artists.

Reliure du recueil de photographies de Terre Sainte, 1880/1885, From the collection of: Bibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes
,
Reliure du recueil de photographies de Terre Sainte, 1880/1885, From the collection of: Bibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes
Show lessRead more

These volumes were shown at the 1878 Paris World's Fair and were awarded a prize. The wooden bookbinder covers of this edition are carved and inlaid with the Jerusalem cross.

Mont des Oliviers avec vue sur l'Eglise Sainte Madeleine (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Vue de Jérusalem de l'Eglise Russe Sainte Madeleine (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem


Russian Church of Saint Mary Magdalene built in 1888.
This picture is signed by Zangaki, a Greek photographer who worked with Bonfils.

View of Jerusalem from the Orthodox Church


Mosque of Omar

Dôme du Rocher, Jérusalem (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Temple Mount, Jerusalem


The Dome of the Rock, built in 691 on the plaza of the Temple of Solomon

Mur des Juifs un vendredi, n° 245 (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Jews' Wailing Wall one Friday 

Remains of the ancient wall of the Temple of Solomon's court and a Jewish holy site of prayer and pilgrimage. At least three pictures of the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall or Kotel) are known to be by Bonfils. This one s

Façade du Saint-Sépulcre, Jérusalem (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Intérieur du Saint-Sépulcre, Jérusalem (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Holy Sepulchre, interior

Vue générale du couvent de Mar Saba (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Architecture

Depending on their location, some monuments allow for spectacular photographic compositions, which Bonfils favored. These photographs are the memory of an unforgettable journey and showcase the view of the Mar Saba monastery clingi

Rue du Caire, quartier Toulon, Egypte (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Street of Cairo, Egypt


The Toulon district and its houses adorned with fine balconies.

Salle hypostyle du temple d’Edfou, Egypte (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Temple of Edfu, Egypt

Temple de Karnak, Egypte (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Slanted Column in Karnak, Egypt

The composition chosen by Bonfils emphasizes the perspective and monumental scale of the sculpted columns. The foreground pattern attracts the eye, but the vanishing point reveals a surprise! 


As he often did, Bonfils placed a person in the scene to convey the impressive size of the buildings. Try and find the person in each of the following photos.
 

Baalbek (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Capitals in Baalbek, Syria.


The scale of the construction is always highlighted through a human presence.

Pierre du Midi, Baalbek, Syrie (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

The Stone of the Pregnant Woman in Baalbek, Syria


This monumental stone is also sometimes called Stone of the South.


This block is considered to be one of the longest stones that was carved and transported by humans.

Baalbek, Syrie, vue de l’Acropole (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Photography techniques


The photographic techniques of the time required a rather long posing time to capture the image. If the photographed subject did not stand still, the image would look fantastical, like this shot taken in Syria, in Baalbek … 

Baalbek, Syrie, vue de l’Acropole (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

View of the Baalbek Acropolis, Syria


… where the figure is blurred and ghost-like.

Phyloe, vue générale du temple d’Isis (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

General view of the Temple of Isis, in Phylae, Egypt


These palm trees moved in the wind during the taking of the photo.

Activités autour de la porte de Jaffa, Jérusalem (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

People and scenes of daily life

Bonfils' studio left behind several portraits of locals taking part in everyday life situations.
Some of these were shot in the studio and others outdoors, like this view of the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, which teems with activity.  

Portrait d'un Cheik bédouin de Palmyre, Félix Bonfils, 1880/1885, From the collection of: Bibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes
,
Portrait d'une jeune femme de Bethléem, Félix Bonfils, 1880/1885, From the collection of: Bibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes
Show lessRead more

Femmes ramassant des pierres (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Druze women gathering stones

Marchands dans les rues de Jérusalem (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Merchants in a street of Jerusalem

Barques et bateliers à Jaffa (1880/1885) by Félix BonfilsBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Boatmen in Jaffa

Credits: Story

Realization: Ville de Nîmes - Bibliothèque Carré d'Art
Iconography:  © Ville de Nîmes - Bibliothèque Carré d’Art, Nîmes 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Nîmes
Discover the history and heritage of the City of Nîmes, Southern France
View theme
Google apps