Endangered Archives

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EAP644: The Fouad Debbas Collection: assessment and digitisation of a precious private collection. Photographs from Maison Bonfils (1867-1910s), Beirut, Lebanon

The aim of this project is to clean, list, index, catalogue and digitise a collection of 3,000 photographs produced in the Middle East by the Maison Bonfils, from 1867 to the 1910s.

The 3,000 items consist of albumen prints gathered in albums and portfolios, glass plates, stereos, cabinet cards and cartes de visite. They are part of the general Fouad Debbas Collection, which contains more than 40,000 photographs. The objective is to undertake a survey, and increase access to and visibility of this most valuable and endangered collection.

The Fouad Debbas Bonfils collection is the most extensive, varied and richest photographic collection produced in the Levant at the end of the Ottoman period. It is in fact one of the very few photographic collections produced in Beirut from the late Ottoman period which are still preserved.

Established in 1867 in Beirut, the Bonfils house set out the first photographic studio in Beirut and established photography as a business. As such Mr Bonfils, his wife Lydie, (apparently the first woman photographer of the whole area at that time) and children, all succeeded in capturing a region of immense physical beauty (the landscape photos of Beirut and Baalbeck), of varied ethnic composition (various portraits), and of rapid socio-economic change, at a crucial moment of the region’s history. The Bonfils Debbas collection is clearly an invaluable document registering the history of a region at a crucial crossroads in the wake of great historical upheaval which was about to sweep the region and bring about the Modern Middle East as we know it.

The Fouad Debbas Collection contains approximately 3,000 items signed by Bonfils between the 1867 studio creation and the 1910s when Lydie Bonfils worked in the family’s Beirut studio for some time after her son abandoned the trade in the early 1900s. This Bonfils collection gathered 62 albums including the 7 famous “Mansell Albums” (approx.1966 photographs); 24 portfolios with approximately 720 photographs from Bonfils; 90 stereoscopic views; a hundred glass plates; 32 cabinet cards and “cartes de visite”. While Fouad Debbas was passionate about research and identifying, for example, a chronology for stamps and signatures by Bonfils, he was not very concerned with preservation and some of this valuable material is now endangered.

The Fouad Debbas Bonfils collection faces many risks. Disassociation of the collection is an emergency situation, and the Bonfils sample is a very representative case. After Fouad Debbas passed away in 2001, the two remaining brothers took over ownership of the collection. The entire collection is housed in a commercial building, with no institutional guarantees for the future, but an adequate storage room has been dedicated to safely host the Collection, fitting international requirements in terms of preventive conservation.

The lack of a database facilitates neither the manager of the collection nor scholars to find a photograph among the 40,000 items. Although the Fouad Debbas Collection is often asked for loans in international exhibitions, finding the right images is a real challenge, since no proper inventory or database exists. Digital preservation standards and directives concerning manipulation as well as the verification of information contained in captions (title, techniques) should be conducted. The creation of a proper database will facilitate preservation and access to the collection. Where necessary, some documents will be rehoused.

Lebanon, and the region at large, lacks any serious governmental structures and institutions capable of protecting and preserving the region’s cultural heritage. Only Bonfils and other photographers’ witnesses remain, where property developers replace traditional workshops and activities of our region. Moreover, the Damocles sword of a new armed conflict haunting Lebanon and the instability of the region, with the current war in Syria in particular, are so many risks that threaten the Lebanese and Middle Eastern heritage.

In this context, the Fouad Debbas Collection would at least remain “alive”, at least as a digital copy in a Lebanese university and in the British Library. We believe that the efforts of one man to gather the memory of this region should not be lost forever.

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EAP644/1: The Bonfils Collection [c 1867-c 1914]

"Description: The Fouad Debbas Collection is the private collection of one man, Fouad Debbas, who studied engineering and got passionate about gathering images of his past and his region. Debbas (Lebanese) spent 26 years (from 1975 until his sudden death in 2001) collecting all images that concerned the Middle-East, with a special interest for Lebanon. He masterminded his collection, classifying his images by photographs / editors / subjects and produced two important books on postcards representing Beirut and on photography in Lebanon during 1848-1914. His collection is a reference for art historians, historians, urbanists and for all Lebanese eager to understand better its heritage. Photographs produced by Maison Bonfils during its establishment in Beirut in 1867 up to the first decade of the 20th century. Landscapes, Portraits of Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, and few images of Turkey, Smyrna or Greece. Photographs on glass (glass plates positives and negatives), loose albumin prints conserved in portfolio, photographic albums, cartes de visite and cabinet cards, stereoscopic views. Images depicting the Middle East of the late 19th century, with an 'orientalist' perspective, sometimes a romantic approach, produced for the European market. Extent and format of original material: SERIES = 138 items from uncomplete series of Bonfils stereoscopic views and lantern magic slides; 3 printed catalogues FILES = 36 photographic albums; 1956 photographs, 27 portfolios; 747 ITEMS = 3 cabinet cards, 49 cartes de visite, 1 Wet collodion glass plate negative."

EAP644/1/58: Portfolio 520 [c 1867-c 1914]

Extent: 130 TIFF images
Level: File
Scope and Content: "Description: Portfolio composed of 122 photographs, only by Bonfils Studio. Image 1: non visible: [Jeune fille debout avec cruche] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 2: non visible: [Jeune fille du Liban] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 3: non visible: [Porteuse d'eau à Jaffa] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 4: non visible: [Femme assise de profil] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 5: Gendarme turc-Kawas [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 6: non visible: [Femme assise avec narguileh] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 7: non visible: [Mendiant assis avec bâton] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 8: non visible: [Femme assise] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 9: Femme turque faisant sa toilette [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 10: Femmes en costumes de Corfou (4 photographs) [c 1867-c 1914]. GREECE, Types & Scenes. Image 11: non visible: [Femme arabe fumant le narguilé] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 12: non visible: [Caravane de voyageurs arrivant à Jérusalem] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 13: non visible: [Barbier rasant son client] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 14: non visible: [Bédouine portant son enfant] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 15: non visible: [Buste de femme turque] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 16: non visible: [Groupe de bédouins de Palmyre] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 17: non visible: [Prêtre maronite du Mont Liban] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 18: non visible: [Prêtre maronite du Mont Liban] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 19: non visible: [Kawas du consulat russe] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 20: non visible: [Kawas du consulat russe] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 21: non visible: [Derviche de la Mecque] [c 1867-c 1914]. Types & Scenes. Image 22: non visible: [Archevêque grec-orthodoxe] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 23: non visible: [Cavalier à cheval] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 24: Frère Liévin de Hamme [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Jerusalem. Image 25: Frère Liévin de Hamme [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Jerusalem. Image 26: non visible: [Femme de Béthléhem] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 27: non visible: [Juif de Jérusalem] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 28: non visible: [Bedouine Woman] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 29: non visible: [Fiancée druze du Liban] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 30: non visible: [Turc faisant sa prière] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 31: Bédouines syriennes [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 32: Groupe de bédouines syriennes [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 33: Joueurs de violons bédouins [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 34: Cheik bédouin de Palmyre [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 35: Bédouines portant leurs enfants [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 36: Femme arabe et son enfant à baudet [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 37: Bergers bédouins de Palmyre [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 38: Femme syrienne, promenant à âne [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 39: non visible: [Femmes au bord de l'eau: scène de lavement ou remplissage des cruches] [c 1867-c 1914]. EGYPT, Types & Scenes. Image 40: non visible: [Café turc] [c 1867-c 1914]. EGYPT, Types & Scenes. Image 41: non visible: [Femme assise] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 42: non visible: [Trois femmes voilées assises] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 43: non visible: [Chameaux portant des palanquins] [c 1867-c 1914]. EGYPT, Types & Scenes. Image 44: non visible: [Scène de campement] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 45: non visible: [Homme fumant le narguileh] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 46: non visible: [Femme fumant le narguileh] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 47: non visible: [Ane et aneliers] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 48: non visible: [Scène de pêche autour du Nil] [c 1867-c 1914]. EGYPT, Types & Scenes. Image 49: non visible: [Musulman] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 50: non visible: [Paysane] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 51: non visible: [Syrian] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 52: non visible: [Paysane] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 53: non visible: [Dragoman] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 54: non visible: [Turk] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 55: non visible: [Syrian] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 56: non visible: [Bedouins] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 57: non visible: [Dame di Jerusalem] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 58: non visible: [Beyrouth] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 59: non visible: [Chef de Bédouins] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 60: non visible: [Porteuse d'eau] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 61: non visible: [Femme juive] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 62: non visible: [Paysane Bédouine] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 63: non visible: [Portier Turc] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 64: non visible: [Arabe maronite] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 65: non visible: [Femme Turque] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 66: non visible: [Barbier] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 67: non visible: [Femme Turque] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 68: non visible: [Cheik Turc] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 69: non visible: [Prêtre Maronite] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 70: non visible: [Patriarche Syriaque] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 71: non visible: [Patriarche Catholique] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 72: non visible: [Patriarche Arménien] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 73: non visible: [Prêtre Maronite] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 74: non visible: [Prêtre Catholique] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 75: non visible: [Prêtre ou patriarche] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 76: non visible: [Frère Liévin] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 77: non visible: [Prêtre maronite] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 78: non visible: [Prêtres Catholiques au Liban] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 79: non visible: [Femme Juive] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 80: non visible: [Filles Musulmanes] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 81: non visible: [Femme du Liban] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 82: non visible: [Femmes Grecques] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 83: non visible: [Femme Turque] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 84: non visible: [Femme Turque] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 85: non visible: [Drogman] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 86: non visible: [Kawas] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 87: non visible: [Bédouin] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 88: non visible: [Derviche religieux musulman] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 89: non visible: [Derviche] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 90: non visible: [Femme Juive] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 91: non visible: [Bédouine] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 92: non visible: [Prêtre Turc] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 93: non visible: [Porteur] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 94: non visible: [Porte Fouin] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 95: non visible: [Bédouine noble] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 96: non visible: [Homme de Béthléem] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 97: non visible: [Fille Arabe] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 98: non visible: [Bédouines] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 99: non visible: [Bédouins au repas] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 100: non visible: [Groupe d'hommes assis en tailleur] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 101: non visible: [Femmes fumant le narguileh] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 102: non visible: [Homme couché au fusil] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 103: non visible: [Homme fumant le chibouk] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 104: non visible: [Femmes fumant le narguileh] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 105: non visible: [Chamelier et chameaux assis] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 106: non visible: [Ecrivain public] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 107: non visible: [Femme fumant le narguileh] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 108: non visible: [Bédouines] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 109: non visible: [Bédouines syriennes portant leurs enfants] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 110: non visible: [Boutique de ferblantier juif à Jérusalem] [c 1867-c 1914]. PALESTINE, Types & Scenes. Image 111: non visible: [Bédouine de Palmyre] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 112: non visible: [Jeune Turc] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 113: non visible: [Jeune fille du Liban] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 114: non visible: [Jeune fille arabe à Beyrouth] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 115: non visible: [Marchand de pain ambulant à Beyrouth] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 116: non visible: [Femme de Damas] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 117: non visible: [Kawas du consulat de France à Damas] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 118: Damas. Fontaine dans une rue de Damas - Syrie [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 119: non visible: [Kawas] [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes. Image 120: non visible: [Dame Maronite] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 121: non visible: [Femme de Beirout] [c 1867-c 1914]. LEBANON, Types & Scenes. Image 122: Babouches Turcs au repas narguilé / Cheiks /Derviches (3 photographs) [c 1867-c 1914]. SYRIA, Types & Scenes."
Collector Fouad César Debbas, 1930-2001
Owner Antoine César Debbas,
Owner Robert César Debbas,
Language(s) Not Applicable
Script(s) Not Applicable
Legal & Ethical Usage Policy Access is for research purposes only