On the Road to Ruins

John Henry Haynes, Central Anatolia

John Henry Haynes was the father of American archaeological photography. Many of his images are the only record of a vanished Anatolian heritage. On the centenary of his death, Robert Ousterhout pays tribute.

A ruined caravanserai rises, deserted on a barren plain. We see it from a high vantage point and a dramatic angle; its spacious courtyard opens before us; the walls extend diagonally to meet the line of the horizon. Skeletal arcades recede into space, the vaulting long since fallen. The camera nevertheless captures myriad details that testify to the building’s faded grandeur: the portal, now blocked, is framed by elegant arches and a muqarnas vault; the pilasters are lined with intricate geometric reliefs. A lone figure, almost unnoticed, stands on the roof, dwarfed by the immensity of the ruin and the vastness of the surrounding plain. The photograph is at once evocative and documentary: its melancholy mood catches our imagination – even the grainy, sepia tones evoke the heat and dust of the Anatolian plain. We pause to contemplate the passage of time, while the carefully organised composition reveals the complexity of its subject, providing a sort of archaeological inventory of the standing remains.

For the 1884 view of the Sultan Han in the plain of Konya, the photographer, John Henry Haynes (1849–1910), drew on two traditions, one old, one new: the long-standing art of landscape painting and the recent science of archaeological photography. His short apprenticeship in photography came at the hands of William J Stillman (1828–1901), as the latter recorded the Acropolis of Athens in 1880. Stillman had been trained as a painter of picturesque landscapes on the upper Hudson River of New York state, and Haynes’s work draws on that tradition. But Haynes spent much of his career as an excavator, and had been instructed to become an archaeological photographer. Indeed, he may be regarded as the father of American archaeological photography, the first to use the camera systematically to document ancient remains. He plied his trade at America’s first classical excavation, at Assos (1881–83) in northwest Asia Minor, and at the first American Mesopotamian excavation at Nippur (1889–1900) in southern Iraq.

An orphaned farm boy from upstate Massachusetts, Haynes studied classics at Williams College and subsequently worked briefly as a high-school principal. A chance encounter in 1880 led him to join a proposed American excavation at Knossos on Crete, then still part of the Ottoman Empire. After several weeks on Crete, however, it became clear that his team would not be issued a firman to excavate. The team leader, the same William J Stillman, had earlier been the American consul on Crete, and in that capacity had supported the failed Greek insurrection on the island; the Ottoman authorities did not welcome his return. Haynes accompanied Stillman back to Athens, and while waiting for further instructions from his sponsors at the Archaeological Institute of America, worked as Stillman’s assistant.

Moving to Europe as a young man, Stillman became known as “the American Pre-Raphaelite”, more for his melodramatic lifestyle than for his abilities as a painter. He was a favourite of the art critic John Ruskin, with whom he travelled, and after whom he named his first son. They eventually fell out when Stillman made the mistake of asking Ruskin’s opinion of his paintings. Met with muted enthusiasm, Stillman destroyed his remaining canvases, suffered an episode of hysterical blindness, then turned to photography, archaeology and eventually journalism.

Possibly his greatest professional success had been a folio of photographs of the Athenian Acropolis, issued in 1870. Following the suicide of his wife, the death of his beloved son Russie and the failure of the Cretan mission, the unfortunate Stillman decided to redo the folio. But rather than trying something new, he monomaniacally attempted to re-create the exact framing, vantage points and camera angles of his original photographs, with Haynes working as his assistant.

The apprenticeship with Stillman had a lasting impact on Haynes’s own photography, and Stillman’s dogged determination to find exactly the right view, properly framed, must have impressed the young Haynes. Although his personality was much more subdued than that of his teacher, Haynes’s compositions are often remarkably similar. The jagged lines, striking angles, high vantage point and spatial recession in Haynes’s photograph of the Sultan Han, for example, echo Stillman’s views of the Parthenon. Haynes favoured the same dramatic isolation of monuments and figures, with elements of the barren landscape drawn into sharp focus, as evident in his evocative views of the Hittite shrine at Eflatunpınar. In a similar manner, Haynes could use the contrasts of solids and voids and of dark and light to great effect. In his view of the Seljuk türbe at Kayseri, he juxtaposes its massive cylinder with a cemetery of frail tombstones and a view into limitless space. In fact, several views of Athens once in Haynes’s possession correspond to published photographs by Stillman; they are unlabelled and could easily be the work of either man. As with Stillman’s views, there is always an element of compositional artistry. From his short apprenticeship, Haynes rapidly developed the discerning eye of a picturesque landscape painter.

Haynes’s work as an archaeological photographer began almost immediately thereafter, as he was dispatched to the Assos excavations in 1881. Rather than return to the US at the end of the season, he found employment at American mission schools in the Ottoman Empire, first at Robert College in Istanbul, where he taught Latin and English, and subsequently at Central Turkey College in Aintab (Gaziantep).

Throughout the 1880s, he travelled with a camera, documenting his journeys through Anatolia, Syria and Mesopotamia. He joined the Wolfe Expedition of 1884–85, a reconnaissance mission to Mesopotamia, out of which grew the University of Pennsylvania excavations at Nippur, which Haynes oversaw, first as business manager and photographer, later as field director. He also served as the first US consul in Baghdad (1888–92).

Haynes was an accomplished and prolific photographer and the first to document many important archaeological sites at a time when travel in the Ottoman hinterland was at best difficult, often painfully slow and occasionally dangerous. Journeying with crates of photographic plates only added to the complexity. Surprisingly, however, he remains all but unknown today. Most of his surviving photographs are unpublished; those that were published were either uncredited or credited to others. At Assos, for example, the final publication notes in passing that Haynes “took a number of photographs of the antiquities discovered and of picturesque features of the city and its vicinity”, although the volume contains more than 60 of his images. He fared little better in the excavation reports from Nippur.

Nor is Haynes fairly acknowledged for his work as an archaeologist. After years of isolation at Nippur, working under harsh and hostile conditions, much of the time alone, he slowly unravelled. In the end, his accomplishments were discredited by the University of Pennsylvania’s eminent Babylonian scholar Hermann Hilprecht. The absentee director of the Nippur expedition, Hilprecht also claimed sole responsibility for Haynes’s discoveries – notably the famed Temple Library of cuneiform tablets. His career in tatters, Haynes succumbed to mental illness, ending his life a broken man.

Several hundred unpublished photographs survive in the archives of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and in the Aga Khan photographic archive at Harvard. The surviving photographs are principally from the excavations at Assos and Nippur, as well as journeys Haynes undertook in the summers of 1884 and 1887 across Phrygia, Lycaonia, Cappadocia, Cilicia and into Syria, often underwritten by members of the fledgling Archaeological Institute of America, for whom he was to provide scientific documentation of the ancient civilisations of Anatolia and the East.

In spite of his obscurity, Haynes left quite a paper trail. The photographs are accompanied by letters and journals recording his impressions of people and landscapes, as well as the mundane details of travel. When I say mundane, I mean mundane. Haynes was not the most compelling of diarists, and his writing reveals little of the sensitivity evident in his photographs: he will belabour the less-than-satisfactory conditions of lodgings, the weather, or the best way to pack glass negatives. At the same time, he often forgets to note place names and is maddeningly brief concerning the sites he visited, presumably relying on his photographs to fill in the details. Haynes’s first season at Assos did not turn out as planned, for he was unable to obtain the necessary photographic plates and ended up working as an archaeologist instead. Despite dissension within the team and difficult living conditions, Haynes seems to have loved the experience of archaeology and thereafter styled himself an archaeologist rather than a photographer. Properly equipped, he photographed in earnest the second season, struggling to perfect his darkroom techniques under challenging circumstances. His letters from this period are filled with apologies for what he viewed as inadequate results. Following the end of the school year at Robert College in the summer of 1884, Haynes met his friend, the noted epigraphist and historical geographer John Robert Sitlington Sterrett (1851–1914), in Akşehir for an excursion across central Anatolia. Haynes and Sterrett knew each other from the excavations at Assos, where Sterrett had prepared the inscriptions for publication. Immediately following their journey, the two travelled together again on the Wolfe Expedition to Mesopotamia and they stayed in regular contact for years afterwards.

From Akşehir, Haynes and Sterrett travelled to the Hittite shrine at Eflatunpınar and the Seljuk capital at Konya, and Haynes took numerous photographs at both sites. These are the earliest photos of Eflatunpınar, and they may be the earliest at Konya as well. At the former, he captures the romantic austerity of the isolated setting, while at Konya he records countless details no longer evident or much altered. The view of the Ince Minare Medresesi shows the distinctive minaret before its partial destruction. It is a view very typical of Haynes: taken from a high vantage point with the building set against a barren landscape.

The two then travelled across Cappadocia to Kayseri, where they visited the American missionaries at Talas and then continued eastward, as Sterrett hunted for Roman milestones and ancient inscriptions. They travelled as far east as Malatya, where they found the ancient lions at Aslantaş. Here Haynes positioned a local travelling companion on horseback behind the lions so that the pose of the horse echoes that of the lions. They returned by way of Kayseri across Cappadocia, and then through Boğazköy to Ankara, where their journey effectively terminated. In his “Preliminary Report on an Epigraphical Journey”, published in 1885, Sterrett comments that Haynes had taken 320 photos during their travels.

Haynes was particularly captivated by Cappadocia, visiting the region on both excursions. He took dozens of photographs in the areas around Selime in 1884, where Haynes and Sterrett seem to have been the first Westerners to record a visit to the site. They also visited the Göreme and Soğanlı Valleys, following in the footsteps of William Hamilton, who recorded his travels through the region in the 1830s. Haynes seems to have been more interested in the curious “fairy chimneys” than the architecture. Still, his photos are valuable documents, recording landforms and architecture that have since deteriorated.

Haynes recorded his first impressions of the region at Selime, where he spent the night on the roof of his lodgings and was too excited to sleep: “…here with the bright moonlight to make night seem like day one feels rather like studying and admiring these wonderful abodes of past generations than like closing his wondering eyes in dreamy slumber, and yet it seems well nigh impossible to quiet one’s excited feelings with such surroundings. Altogether these rock formations and the multitude of excavated dwellings… appear to me now the most wonderful thing I have ever been permitted to rest my eyes upon in all my travels and among all the wonderfully interesting things it has been my good fortune to see in the land of wonders” (UPM Journal 3, 1884).

He continues in this vein for several more pages, as he accepts the opinion that these were at one time the dwellings of Christians fleeing persecution. In 1892 Haynes published a folio of photographs taken during a journey in the summer of 1887. Judging from its general obscurity, it was not a commercial success. In it he included 47 views of Cappadocia, writing in the brief introduction: “Who were the first occupants of these wonderful caves we do not know; but from the appearance of the excavations themselves we judge them to have been made in very ancient times by a race of people of whom we know very little. Whatever we may think of the origins of these peculiar habitations it is certain from the churches and chapels of the Byzantine period that they were once occupied by Christians. It is also reasonable to suppose that the persecutions of the Roman emperors drove these early Christians from the coasts of Asia Minor to this obscure region where they could live in concealment in these abandoned dwellings.”

Although he contemplated writing a book about the region, this never came to fruition. In a letter to his family of October 1885 he writes: “I am unfortunate enough to have more reputation as a photographer than I want: for my friends call upon me pretty frequently and I have in this way done a good deal but I do not like it. It makes a drudge of me and unfits me for any literary work. I ought moreover to find time for study and to work up into a treatise last summer’s investigations among the cave dwellers of Asia Minor. But as yet have not found the requisite time to do so. Pres. Norton urges me to write up some of my experiences for the American Journal of Archaeology and I ought to do it or give up archaeological work forever.”

Many of his photos from the 1884 trip seem to have ended up as the property of his travelling companion, Sterrett, who gives a good sense of what Haynes’s unwritten book might have been like in a 1919 article in National Geographic, entitled “The Cone Dwellers of Asia Minor: A Primitive People Who Live in Nature-Made Apartment Houses Fashioned by Volcanic Violence and Trickling Streams”. In it he compares the inhabitants of Cappadocia to primitive, uncivilised cavemen, drawing comparisons from ancient texts, such as Diodorus Siculus’s fanciful account of the races of the extreme south, the Ethiopians and the Troglodytes, which he quotes at length: they drink blood, run around naked, kill the aged and infirm, and make merry at funerals. Sterrett supposed the rock-cut settlements to have been from the Bronze Age, with a few Byzantine intrusions.

The article is illustrated with no less than 52 of Haynes’s photos, from both trips, all credited to Sterrett. The article appeared several years after the deaths of both men, so I’m not sure we can blame Sterrett, but it seems to have been Haynes’s fate that his work should be credited to others. We can be certain that these are his photos, because they match those he kept in his possession and those that appeared in his 1892 folio; Haynes’s journal regularly records Sterrett going ahead to find inscriptions while Haynes stayed behind to photograph the monuments and landscapes.

Haynes’s tour of 1887 was supported by William R Ware of Columbia University, specifically for the purpose of photographing archaeological sites. He revisited several destinations from his 1884 tour, including Eflatunpınar, Cappadocia and Kayseri. There was growing interest at that time in the Hittites and Phrygians and other obscure early peoples of Anatolia. During this trip, Haynes took measurements at many of the monuments he visited, as at Eflatunpınar, where he notes simply: “Took photos and measured the huge pile. Found it difficult to climb to the top and get down safely.” Later he realised he had forgotten some of the measurements but determined these could be scaled from the recorded measurements and the photograph – that is, he realised the photogrammetic potential of the camera. At the German excavations at Zincirli, he left his rifle leaning against the relief in an artfully composed photograph. While giving a scale for the carved orthostat blocks, the rifle also provides an amusing visual contrast with the weapon-bearing figure immediately behind it.

The ultimate goal of Haynes’s 1887 trip was the highlands of Phrygia, to record the rock-cut monuments around the so-called City of Midas. Photographs of the area had been requested specifically by his patron, and Haynes often cut his journey short elsewhere to hasten towards Phrygia. Most of these monuments survive in more or less the condition in which Haynes recorded them.

Elsewhere Haynes’s photographs provide a record of monuments long since vanished. Those from the so-called “Thousand and One Churches” at Karadağ are perhaps his most valuable. The early Byzantine site in Lycaonia is best known from the photographs by Gertrude Bell, who studied the site with Sir William Ramsay in 1907. But an earthquake levelled many of the buildings before Bell arrived on the scene. Church Number 8 had fallen but was still recognisable, while others photographed by Haynes had been subsequently reduced to piles of rubble. Church Number 8 has long been of interest to scholars because of its similarities to the martyrium described by Gregory of Nyssa. Haynes’s is our only photographic record of it fully standing, and, as is typical of Haynes, his travelling companions are posed in the windows.

Unfortunately, Haynes had to cut short his visit to Binbirkilise on August 3, 1887, having photographed only five of its buildings. He wrote in a letter to Ware, two years later: “Since there was no water within several miles and the sun was very hot I could only take a few photographs as speedily as possible and hasten away to join the caravan…” More critically, it seems, there was no food for the horses.

Haynes’s letter stands as something of a swansong for his travel photography. He envisaged a folio of images, which two years after the trip he was still unable to produce. “Neither money nor leisure nor books are at my command. In these days of the rapid growth of scholarship… to write anything of permanent value, one must consult the writings of others…” In a letter of March 17, 1886, he begs Brother Peet, a missionary at the Bible House in Constantinople, to sell him Hamilton’s Researches in Asia Minor. Apparently he was unsuccessful – the book remains in the Bible House library.

By 1889, Haynes had become drawn into the isolated and problematic excavations at Nippur, and these consumed – some might argue, destroyed – the remainder of his career. After he was distracted by his lack of resources at Aintab and his responsibilities at Baghdad and Nippur, his folio appeared finally in 1892, but it never saw wide distribution. Nevertheless, it is curious how Haynes has remained obscure and his photographs unknown. Haynes often had financial support from the American Institute of Archaeology, and there is a long correspondence with Charles Eliot Norton on the subject. I suspect that copies of his photographs went to prominent university collections, besides those at Penn and Harvard, which were both acquired long after Haynes’s death. Some may still exist but remain unidentified, owing to the general obscurity of the photographer, who died “Broken in Body and Spirit”, as his obituary read in the June 29, 1910 North Adams Evening Transcript, unrecognised for his many accomplishments. Why?

The fault may lie partly with Haynes, who saw himself as an archaeologist, a profession in which he was always overshadowed by others. In spite of his discerning eye and his artistic sensibility, Haynes understood his photography to be little more than a tool of the trade. We now view photography as a more complex process, for the lens of the camera looks both ways, telling us as much about the person behind it as it does about the subject in front of it. From his writings, Haynes remains something of a cipher, at best a wordy dullard. His photography tells a much richer human story, revealing both a sensitive personality and an archaeological vision. On the centenary of his death, the rediscovery of John Henry Haynes is long overdue.

The photographs of John Henry Haynes are part of the exhibition ‘Archaeologists & Travelers in Ottoman Lands’ at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia (from September 26 2010). For more information, www.penn.museum. The exhibition will travel to the Pera Museum in Istanbul in 2011.

Also in Cornucopia 44: The startling couture of Dice Kayek. Jazzing up the Washington Embassy. Plus a century of Anatolian travel: from Cappadocia 1884 to Cnidus 2010

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