Today, as we effortlessly snap everything from our morning latte to latest shopping purchase, it’s easy to forget the role photography played 100 years ago. For 19th-century explorers, for example, now-venerable black-and-white images were a cutting-edge way to document unfamiliar corners of the world and filter their perspective back to curious audiences at home.
It’s these formative years, between 1842 and 1896, that Photographs: An Early Album of the World (until 13 July) covers. “Pioneering photographers played a key role in making other cultures visible and accessible to people back home, the same way our audiences record their daily experiences to share them with their family, friends and online communities,” observes Manuel Rabaté, director of Louvre Abu Dhabi. Largely sourced from the collection of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, there are scenes from the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Highlights include the earliest photographic images of Saudi Arabia and Yemen by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor best known for designing the Statue of Liberty. It sheds light on non-Western trailblazers, too, from Egyptian photographer Sadiq Bey, who took the first-known photograph of Mecca, to Kassian Cephas, the first indigenous Indonesian to become a professional photographer.