The Felix Bonfils Collection

 The story of how modern audiences became acquainted with Felix Bonfils (1831-1885), begins with a bang. October, 1971: An explosion occurs in the Semitic Museum in the usually quiet town of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The target was a military research institute that resided in the building, and the act was part of the student anti-Vietnam war movement.
The explosion exposed a forgotten attic in the museum, and in it the museum's staff found boxes filled with 28,000 photos from the Levant, most of them from the second half of the 19th century. More than 800 photos appeared with the signature of “Bonfils”, a then-unknown name.
This event brought into public awareness Felix Bonfils, who today is acknowledged as one of the most important figures in the development of the photography of the Middle East.  Bonfils arrived in the Levant in 1860 as a soldier in the French Expeditionary Force that came to Lebanon to protect the Christian Maronite minority. He returned to France at the end of the mission, but his heart remained in the East. In 1867 he returned to Lebanon with his family, and together with his wife, he founded the Oriental Photography House, that in future years would be responsible for producing the most beautiful photos of the area. Bonfils travelled the areas surrounding Lebanon extensively, among them the Land of Israel, and the photos he took are of an unusually high quality for the time. He is considered a pioneering photographer who made an unprecedented contribution to the history of photography in the Middle East.