A museum of photography at the Oriental Library of the Saint Joseph University of Beirut
Since June 2016 the prestigious Oriental Library of the Saint Joseph University of Beirut houses a museum of photography in its walls.
With a fund of more than 70,000 photographs, the Oriental Library of the Saint Joseph University of Beirut owns an invaluable source of documentation on the Middle Eastern history. Thanks to the partnership signed on July 24, 2014 with the Boghossian Foundation, the Oriental Library is now able to protect this unique heritage and make it accessible to the public.
Since June 2016 the prestigious Oriental Library features a museum entirely dedicated to the photographs taken by generations of Jesuits. Since the early second half of the 19th century, alongside Constantinople and Jerusalem, Beirut became one of the most important photographic centres of the region. Among the orientalists who flocked to the East, many renowned photographers, such as Tancrède Dumas and Félix Bonfils, took up residence in Beirut. They were soon followed by indigenous photographers as George Sabounji and the Sarrafian brothers. The missionaries themselves also played a big part in the strong momentum that the discipline knew around that time. As early as 1865, father A. Bourquenoud and A. Dutau, followed by many others, systematically took along and abundantly used their camera during their trips, be it through the Lebanese mountains, the Beqaa valley, or during their travels to Syria, Armenia and Egypt.
The enthusiasm the Jesuits showed for photography is mainly due to the fact that they saw it as a valuable educational and documentary means. As missionaries, they often used photography to spread their apostolic message. Besides this the Jesuits are also known for their interest in science, which explains the variety of disciplines covered. The photos taken by the Jesuits and exhibited by the museum cover several decades of photographic history, archaeological discoveries, ethnographic studies and scientific innovation.
The implementation of this project included several steps:
• Fitting a room with appropriate equipment, including temperature and humidity control. Saint Joseph University provided a 100 m² room located on the Oriental Library’s ground floor
• Preserving documents in acid-free cabinets, boxes and envelopes
• Compiling, inventorying and digitizing the collection for its subsequent management, development and distribution, including the purchase of the, therefore, necessary equipment (computers, appropriate scanners, databases…)
• Training qualified personnel to handle the collection’s digitizing and preservation.
The photographic library’s purpose reaches further than just managing and exploiting the photographic collection, it also intends to enrich the collection through the acquisition of other private, scientific and artistic collections. A call was sent out to all collectors!
A part of the collection has been highlighted in various exhibitions and publication of exhibition catalogues:
• The origins of Aerial Archaeology, (exhibition – USJ, Beirut), 2000
• Father Joseph Delore’s “Little Schools of Mount Lebanon (exhibition – USJ, Beirut), 2003
• An archaeological adventure, (exhibition Musée Archéologique, Arles), 2004
• Michel Jullien and Paul Soulerin’s archaeological trip to Syria and Lebanon in 1888, 2004
• The Armenian people, a quest for sanctuary, 1917-1939, (exhibitions USJ, Beirut and Cité de l’Emigration, Paris), 2006
• Photographic portraits of the East, 2010
• The Armenians of Cilicia, 2012
As part of this partnership the Boghossian Foundation and the Oriental Library of Beirut worked along with the Photography Museum of Charleroi to set up an exhibition end 2014. The exhibition presented a selection of works from the photographic archives, all around the theme of population movements in the early 20th century in the East.