Roland Belgrave

The Eleven Wonders

My journey began at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. It was in the photographic archives of this fantastic collection that I became truly captivated by the inherent power of the photographic image. This experience cemented my passion and enabled me with time to build a number of private and institutional collections.
By the 1850’s portrait photography was becoming a documentary medium, part of a colonial, oriental and ethnological ideal as opposed to the more decorative and aesthetic art-form that we know of today.

These images, all taken around 1870 and all printed as albumen prints, fit into my world of early travel and exploration. A time when crates of chemicals, glass slides and very heavy equipment would be carried up the Himalaya, taken to the Arctic and transported to far-flung corners of the globe. They have travelled through time and now, I reveal them, together as little gems. You can take them at face value, or research the customs, dress and history in which these photographs are steeped.

Above left: Pacific Islander. This portrait is superb and unusual, showing the ‘wasekaseka’ split sperm whale’s tooth necklace from Fiji which was typical neck-dress of a high ranking tribesman.

Above right: Indian Holy Man. Otherwise known as a Sadhu, and amongst the earliest known photographs of such Hindu Holy Men who were notoriously shy of the camera.

Above left: The Hairy Family of Mandalay.  The Hairy Family of Burma were four generations of a nineteenth-century Burmese family who suffered from congenital hypertrichosis lanuginose [excessive hairiness]. The earlier generations of the family were kept at the royal court as entertaining curiosities and mascots, where they were believed to bring good luck if touched. The later generations entered show business and were exhibited for money, most notably by P.T. Barnum, who advertised them as The Sacred Hairy Family of Burma under the slogan ‘Touch them for luck!’

Above right: Russian Cossack. Taken by Ivan Raoult, this would have been taken in Georgia and shows a military type with a rich and fascinating history.

Above: Thai Prince. What makes this image fascinating is the props, the sense of proportion and his magnetic stare.

Above left: A Lapp  (Sami) Couple. Taken by Eneret Kalland.  Like the Chinese soldier, one I have only ever seen once. My dream is to have a series by this photographer, however I just cannot locate any others.

Above right: Indonesian tribe holding war clubs.

Above  left: Jewish Woman, Damascus. Taken by Felix Jacques Antoine Moulin, an extraordinary studio portrait.

Above right: Chinese Soldier. This particular image is one I have only seen once.  Having seen hundreds of portraits and types from nineteenth century China, I cannot find any reference to this. Is he a monk? Military figure?


Above left: Two Whistles, Apsaroke,  by Edward Curtis. “Two Whistles (Ishichoshtupsh), born in 1856 was a Mountain Crow of the Not Mixed clan and Lumpwood organization. At the age of eighteen he led a party consisting of himself and two others, which captured one hundred horses from the Sioux. During an outbreak in 1887 Two Whistles was shot in the arm and breast, necessitating the amputation of the arm above the elbow. His medicine of hawk was purchased with a horse from a Sioux.” – Curtis

Above right: Indian Maharaja. Portrait of Sir Venkat Raman Ramanuj Prasad Singh, Maharaja of Rewa. (1876 – 1918).  Beautifully hand-painted photograph, a trend that started in Japan and spread to most studios in Asia, where hand colouring became common, but only a handful were very good.

Berlin, Bears and Refugees