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Ref ID: 22813
Ref Type: Book Section
Authors: Bautze, Joachim K.
Title: Émile Gsell (1838-79) and early photographs of Angkor
Date: 2012
Source: Connecting empires and states: selected papers from the 13th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists
Place of Publication: Singapore
Publisher: NUS Press
Abstract: The earliest photographs of Angkor in Cambodia were taken by the Scottish photographer and geographer, John Thomson (1837-1921). Starting from Bangkok on 27 January 1866, “ to photograph the ruined temples” (Thomson 1875: 118) Thomson journeyed to Angkor, “in consequence” as he himself admitted, “ of the interest excited in me by reading the late M. Mouhot’s ‘Travels in Indo-China, Cambodia, and Laos,’ and other works to which I had access” (Thomson 1867: 7). Thomson states that he used a “photographic apparatus and chemicals for the wet collodion process” (1867: 7). On the way, at “Ban-Ong-ta Krong” (1875: 128), about ten days before reaching his destination, Thomson had a “sharp attack of jungle fever” (1867: 7-8
1875: 128). Were it not for his fellow-traveler, H. G. Kennedy from H.B.M. consular service, Thomson would “have met the fate of M. Mouhot, and perished in the jungle” (1867: 8). The precise dates of Thomson’s stay at Angkor or, in the words of Thomson, Nakhon, are not known. The same must be said about the duration of his stay: “several days” (1875: 150). On 31 January, he arrived at Paknam Kabin (1875: 124) and cannot have reached Angkor before March, since he “spent over a month in lumbering across the country” (1875: 128). Thomson must have left Angkor on 26 March at the latest, as on that day he “landed at Campong Luang” (1875: 155). Apparently, Thomson was not the only European researcher at the site: “When I attempted to photograph this object [1867: plate XV
1875: 151], a tribe of black apes, wearing white beards, came hooting along the branches of the overhanging trees, swinging and shaking the boughs, so as to render my success impossible. A party of French sailors, who were assisting the late Captain de Lagrée in his researches into the Cambodian ruins, came up opportunely, and sent a volley among my mischievous opponents
whereupon they disappeared […]” (1875: 152). Thomson also met French officers, who were “awaiting the return of M. de Lagrée from Siamrap” (1875: 152). It seems that on this occasion Thomson had shown his photographs of Angkor to Ernest Doudart de Lagrée (Ghesquière 2001: 224). Ernest Doudart de Lagrée, apparently deeply impressed by Thomson’s views of the old monuments, asked Emile Gsell, enlisted with the French army since 1858 and staying at Saigon, if he would be prepared to accompany the <i>Commission d’exploration du Mékong</i> as their photographer. Gsell, who had learned the art of photography to serve military purposes, agreed (Garnier 1871: 6). Accordingly, he was released from military duties to photograph the monuments. The French party reached Angkor, riding on elephants, on 24 June 1866 (Garnier 1871: 10) and left it, by elephant, on 1 July 1866 (Garnier 1871: 32). Marie Joseph François Garnier, who accompanied the expedition, mentions that (by 1870) the photographs of Angkor of “M. Thompson [sic]” were known, though only through the woodcut illustrations in the French edition of James Fergusson’s (1808-86) “A history of Architecture in all Countries, from the earliest Times to the present Day” (1871: 22). That Fergusson, “that most distinguished authority on architecture” had Thomson’s photographs at his disposal is confirmed by Thomson himself (1875: 140).
Identifier: 978-9971-69-643-6
Date Created: 11/12/2013
Editors: Tjoa-Bonatz, Mai Lin
Reinecke, Andreas
Bonatz, Dominik
Volume: 2
Page Start: 306
Page End: 316