French (1831 – 1885)
A bookbinder from St-Hippolyte-du-Fort, Bonfils traveled to Lebanon in 1861 and 1864. He returned infatuated with the beauty of the country. Apprenticed in photography by Niepce de St Victor, nephew of Nicéphore Niepce, Bonfils opened a studio in 1865 in southern France. In 1867, he moved to Beirut with his wife and son, where his photographic career began. During the next four years he produced an extraordinary collection of 15,000 prints from 591 negatives and 9000 stereoscopic views of Greece, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. He used the wet collodion on glass process to capture monuments, landscapes and portraits. His wife, Marie-Lydie played a large role in photographing female subjects. The Maison Bonfils was well known for commercial portraits and expanded to branches in Jerusalem, Baalbek, Alexandria and Cairo. The photography of Bonfils is comparable in its sensibility, beauty and documentary value to that of archeologists and early travel photography enthusiasts.