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Multimedia exhibition features never-before-seen photographs of historic sites
Félix Bonfils.Maison Bonfils Studio. Temple de Diocletien. Remains of the Temple of Diocletian. Palmyra, Syria. c. 1867-76. Albumen silver print, 22 cm x 29 cm.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Institute for Digital Archaeology, in association with the UK Permanent Mission to the United Nations, is presenting “Old Cities, New Eyes,” a multimedia exhibition featuring virtual reality experiences, state-of-the-art 3D modelling, and never-before-seen photographs of historic sites. Showcasing both the importance and the fragility of cultural heritage through the lens of two-hundred years of imaging technology.

‘Photographs from Palmyra' curated by Stacey Lambrow as part of “Old Cities, New Eyes” includes some of the earliest photographs of the ancient site created in the 19th century alongside some of the most recent images of Palmyra taken just weeks ago. The exhibition highlights the peril our cultural heritage faces and the effect of war on these sites and the society and communities who have lived beside them for centuries ¬– the human loss resulting from the physical and cultural loss.

The historical photographs in this exhibition were created by Félix Bonfils (1831-1895) and his assistants at the Maison Bonfils Studio between 1867-1876. They represent the most extensive photographic record of Palmyra in the 19thcentury. Captured during the earliest days of photography, these powerful images were produced using cumbersome wet plate collodion chemistry and large wooden field cameras. Bonfils and his team of assistants traveled for days to Palmyra from his studio in Beirut by horse, camel, and mule with a precious stock of fragile glass plates and all the supplies required for a portable darkroom. Negatives had to be prepared on site, and exposed, developed, and fixed before they dried-a process that would have taken less than 10 minutes in the dry desert heat.

Photography, since its invention, has chronicled people in their distinctive cultural milieu. With heavy cameras, fragile glass plates, and wet plate collodion chemistry, pioneering photographer’s like Bonfils successfully created a systematic visual record of the great archeological sites in early states of preservation.

The tradition continues.

Bonfils's original 19th century albumen prints are paired with never before seen images of the iconic monuments of Palmyra as they now appear-after the partial destruction of the site. Courageous local 21st century photographers have meticulously documented the current appearance of the important UNESCO World Heritage Site. Their resolve to put the history of Palmyra on record underlies the importance of the city to its local community and bears witness to the power of photography to bring history to life.

Palmyra, Syria has been occupied since the 2nd millennium BCE. The diversity of people who made Palmyra their home, from the first settlement to the Ottoman Period, created a city that truly reflected its multicultural population. The stunning architecture of Palmyra, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980, has fascinated humans for centuries. Even now, after the brutal 2015 and 2017 destruction of much of Palmyra by ISIS fighters, the ancient city stands as a symbol of cooperation and acceptance.

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