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John Henry Haynes

A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881–1900 (2nd Edition)

By Robert Ousterhout (1950–2023)
Published by Cornucopia Books
ISBN 978-0-9565948-6-0

£22.95 / $29.65 / €27.23
($/€ approx)

Firm paperback, 2nd edition, published 2016 (first published 2011), 152 pages, 128 black & white photographs

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Book Description


Still virtually unknown, JOHN HENRY HAYNES (1849–1910) is the father of American archaeological photography. His travels took him from Athens to Istanbul and on to Mesopotamia. In this landmark study, now revised with additional unpublished photographs, Robert G. Ousterhout assesses his unique blend of artistry and documentation.


John Henry Haynes is described as ‘The father of American archaeological photography’ (writes Roger Williams), and if Haynes is not as well known as he should be, John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881–1900 by Robert G. Ousterhout explains why. In some ways this farm boy from Massachusetts, born in 1849, didn’t have much chance against fellow archaeologists engaged in trampling over each other to further their names. True, Haynes lacked a solid Classical education, and some of his colleagues considered him common and slow-witted, but he had an artistic eye, photographed places unknown and had one particularly spectacular find. He was even appointed the first American Ambassador to Baghdad.

This is a revised edition of a book that came out in 2011, refreshed with some unpublished pictures as a companion to a new and timely title, Palmyra 1885. Ousterhout is the author of both books, co-authoring Palmyra 1885 with Benjamin Anderson. They are published by Cornucopia and presented with the visual elegance readers have come to expect from the magazine. Many of the images in the reissued book, described as a ‘landmark study’, come from the archives of Harvard University and from the University of Pennsylvania, which was involved in some of these early expeditions and where Ousterhout is Professor of Byzantine Art and Architecture.

Haynes’ mentor was the charismatic William Stillman. A protégé of John Ruskin’s, Stillman was known as The American Pre-Raphaelite, and in a chapter on the photographer as artist, Ousetrhout explains in accessible language the complexities and the creativity of Stillman’s and Haynes’ images. Stillman had successfully published a book of photographs of Athens as well as The Amateur’s Photographic Guide Book by the time he and Haynes met in 1881, the year after the American Institute of Archaeology had been formed. Their AIA-funded expedition to Crete, pre-Arthur Evans, had been thwarted, and they found themselves in Athens where Stillman attempted to re-create the striking photographs of his original book, some of which are reproduced here.

In Athens Haynes assisted and learned his craft, which would first be put to the test at Assos, 35 miles south of Troy and AIA’s first Ottoman expedition. It is immediately evident that Haynes had his own style. Whereas Stillman’s pictures make dramatic use of structures and angles, Haynes’ pictures include men and boys working with him, not just to give a sense of scale but to help share the human experience. “Today we see the early excavations at Assos primarily through the eyes of Haynes,” Ousterhout writes.

The book divides Haynes’ career as an archaeological photographer into three stages. The first is ‘a foothold in the east’, when he is travelling around Anatolia and, between seasons, teaching at Robert College in Istanbul. In the second, he is based at The Central Turkey College at Gazientep (1885–87), visiting Cappadocia, travelling with William R. Ware, founder of the School of Architecture at Columbia University, and joining the Wolfe Expedition to Syria and Mesopotamia. The third is with the volatile Babylonian Exploration Fund to find sites that might support the veracity of the Bible.

Frustratingly for American archaeologists and their sponsors, these expeditions arrived on the scene a little too late, because by 1884 an Ottoman law had been passed preventing the removal of archaeological finds from anywhere in the empire. But Haynes was the first to photograph a number of sites, such as the Hittite monument at Eflatunpınar. He also captured places that have utterly changed: as Stillman was to Athens, so Haynes was to Ankara, a small deserted village with a lonely Byzantine fortress. Sultan Han, Anatolia’s largest caravanserai, looks wild and wonderful compared to its modern, rebuilt incarnation, while the beehive houses of Şanlıurfa seem from another planet.

Haynes visited the Cappadocia with John Robert Sitlington Sterrett of Cornell University who had been with him at Assos, and it made an enormous impression. “The rock formations and extraordinary dwellings were the most wonderful thing I have ever been permitted to rest my eyes upon,” he said, and indeed they look enchantingly primeval without tourist hordes. Back in Gazientep, with little money, he attempted to publish a folio of photos of Cappadocia, with text, but the reproduction was poor and he was not a great writer. Even the notes and diaries of his travels, which must have been full of incidents, were mundane. “And when I say mundane,” writes Ousterhout, who is clearly hoping for a bit of action, “I mean mundane.”

Haynes’ sense of wonder of Cappadocia, captured in more than 300 photographs, was not shared with his fellow Americans until nine years after his death in obscurity, “broken in body and spirit”, in 1910, when 52 of them were published in National Geographic with text by Sterrett – who took credit for the pictures, too. And it was Hermann Vollrath Hilprecht, Professor of Assyriology at Pennsylvania University, who took the credit for the discovery of 23,000 tablets thought to be from the Temple Library at the Sumerian city of Nippur, though it was Haynes who found this extraordinary treasure trove. Hilprecht and the Babylonian Exploration Fund’s team leader, John Punnett Peters, had clashed, and walked off the project leaving Haynes, an inexperienced team leader, to continue the excavations. Not only was he not thanked for his finds, but Hilbrcht took the laurels, using some of Haynes’ pictures without acknowledgement in his subsequent book, Explorations in the Bible Lands in the 19th century.

Architecture defines civilisations, and many of the sites that Haynes photographed give a sense of the crumbling nature of man as his buildings are corroded by time, and of landscapes oblivious to his efforts. It also shows the importance of photographs as instruments of record. This is certainly true of Palmyra, which Haynes photographed at the behest of the AIA on the Wolfe Expedition. These pictures are now compiled in Palmyra 1885, the companion book, and confirm Haynes as the Father of American Archaeological Photography.

Roger Williams is a contributor to and author of The Fisherman of Halicarnassus and a number of travel books.

Featured in Cornucopia 56

Dramas in the dust

Robert G. Ousterhout. John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881-1900. Second Edition. Cornucopia Books, 2016. 152 pages, with 128 black & white photographs. Softcover.
ISBN 978-605-83080-0-8.

Benjamin Anderson and Robert G. Ousterhout. Palmyra 1885: The Wolfe Expedition and the Photographs of John Henry Haynes. Cornucopia Books, 2016. 128 pages, with 85 black & white photographs. Softcover.
ISBN 978-0-9565948-7-7.

Two recent publications pay homage to John Henry Haynes (1849–1910), American archaeologist and long unacknowledged pioneer of archaeological photography. The first, John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881–1900, authored by Robert G Ousterhout, is a monograph on Haynes that was first published in 2011. The revised and expanded 2016 edition includes additional, hitherto unpublished photographs. In meticulous detail the study maps out the career of Haynes from his first experiences as excavation photographer in the Assos Expedition in western Anatolia (1881–83) to his years as the excavation director at the Nippur Expedition in Iraq between the 1893 and 1896 seasons.

In the second study on Haynes, entitled Palmyra 1885, Robert G Ousterhout is joined by Benjamin Anderson as co-author. The book focuses particularly on Haynes’ five-day visit to Palmyra carried out as part of the Wolfe Expedition, a survey trip to Mesopotamia organized by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) in 1885. The study provides a comprehensive account on Haynes’ life and career, as well as a historical assessment of the site itself, with particular reference to its renditions in scholarly and travel narratives, and its documentation in early photography. The two publications are unique in bringing into light John Henry Haynes as a significant figure in the formation of archaeological photography.

These are the first scholarly studies that provide a comprehensive account of Haynes’ career as photographer. The majority of Haynes’ surviving photographs, located at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Aga Khan Archives at Harvard University, had long been left in obscurity, and are published in these volumes for the first time. Most of the photographs that had been published earlier in surveys and articles, on the other hand, were either uncredited or attributed to (and in some cases claimed by) other archaeologists and photographers. Ousterhout and Anderson have achieved the remarkable feat of locating and identifying these photographs, and reclaiming them as part of Haynes’ impressive oeuvre. The authors’ insightful accounts on the life and career of Haynes are supplemented by a generous number of illustrations, first-rate photographic reproductions, which add to the charm of these well-designed and handsomely produced volumes. A distinctive aspect of the two books is the care afforded to the writing of captions that serve the illustrations. On first sight one realizes that the lengthy captions are to be read carefully rather than glanced at. They contain detailed explicative accounts, and at times even critical arguments related to the specifics of the photographs, and therefore make a valuable and informative supplement to the main text.

Ousterhout’s John Henry Haynes provides a rich and textured exposition of Haynes’ life-long engagement with archaeology and with what he considered to be its documentary agent, photography. In investigating the photographs Ousterhout makes careful note of sites and buildings that were photographed for the first time, or ones that were damaged or destroyed after they had been recorded by Haynes. These ranged from ancient Assyrian and Hittite finds to Medieval Christian and Seljuk monuments dispersed in an area extending from the northern Aegean into southern Mesopotamia. But beyond a careful examination of individual photographs, the author also engages in a rigorous historical analysis of Haynes’ endeavors, making exhaustive use of archival documentation, such as excavation reports, the personal diaries and letters of Haynes, or the internal correspondences of institutions such as the AIA or University of Pennsylvania’s Babylon Exploration Fund. The archival record enables us to situate Haynes within the dense historical context of late 19th century American academia and trace out his career within the dynamics of frenzied archaeological activity. We not only grasp the dreams, challenges and frustrations of a self-made archaeologist witnessing the formative decades of the discipline. We are also able to explore the motives and perceptions of the American archaeological community as they funded and mobilized Haynes, while eventually disregarding his professional output in accordance with broader institutional goals, class hierarchies, personal ambitions and academic rivalries.

The book’s chapters are arranged in chronological order. The first chapter investigates Haynes’ early life and the beginnings of his involvement in archaeology and photography. Ousterhout underlines William J. Stillman’s formative impact on Haynes when the latter was merely an enthusiast of archaeology. Stillman was the director of a failed archaeological mission to Crete organized by the AIA in 1881. Offered a position in the mission, Haynes sailed to Greece, and while waiting for the permit for the mission (which the Ottoman authorities would never grant) he spent about two months with Stillman in Athens. This was the time when Stillman, the expert photographer, taught Haynes the technical aspects of photography.

The second chapter follows Haynes to Assos, an ancient Greek site in western Anatolia, where he worked as the excavation photographer between 1881 and 1883. The images reveal how Haynes brings out the full drama of the site in his first official mission as photographer. In these early experiments, ancient settings and objects are counterpoised by prominently placed figures representing contemporary life in the excavation; workers, horsemen, exotic villagers, or pensive archaeologists. Instances of what Ousterhout calls “intrusive modernity”, such striking contrasts between the present and the past were trademarks of Haynes’ unique approach to archaeological photography.

The third chapter, “Travels with a Camera,” follows Haynes’ photographic explorations through selected images taken in various excursions to Central Anatolia, Syria and Mesopotamia between 1884 and 1887. In the 1884 Cappadocia excursion alone, Haynes took more than 300 photographs. Ousterhout skillfully braids these captivating images with insights he gathers from Haynes’ personal letters and diary entries. With such densely contextualized reading, one gets an intimate sense of the logistical and emotional challenges of travelling and photographing in the Ottoman countryside at the end of the nineteenth century.

The fourth chapter, “Baghdad and Beyond,” focuses on Haynes’ years of professional maturity. It investigates his most significant output as archaeologist at the Nippur Excavation organized by the Babylon Exploration Fund of the University of Pennsylvania. Haynes had been affiliated with the Nippur project since its launching in 1888. Then, through the 1893–1896 and 1898–1900 seasons, he was appointed the director of year-round excavations, simply because other, more accomplished archaeologists were unwilling to withstand the intolerable conditions of the Nippur site. In 1900 Haynes made a major discovery, unearthing 23,000 cuneiform tablets from the Nippur Temple’s scribal office – at which point, the acknowledged Assyriologist H.V. Hilprecht took over the excavation and took full credit for Haynes’ discoveries. This was the final blow to Haynes’ career. Denigrated, and in failing health and mental condition, he retreated to his home in New England. Tracing out these setbacks and tribulations, and with a close eye on quarrels, tensions and rivalries within the excavation sites, Ousterhout’s book provides a sensitive account of Haynes’ shortcomings, his professional aspirations, and their eventual collapse. Exposing Haynes’ disadvantaged position within the academic community as a less educated and less privileged individual from a modest background, the book skillfully lays bare the reasons for the long-term obscurity of this archaeological pioneer.

The final chapter of Ousterhout’s book foregrounds Haynes as a photographer and investigates his works from an aesthetic viewpoint. The chapter includes a detailed account on the artistic outlook of William Stillman, Haynes’ mentor and main source of inspiration in the photographic trade. With a careful comparison of Haynes’ photographs with those of Stillman, Ousterhout traces back the former’s technique and outlook to its roots in the picturesque aesthetics of the nineteenth century, especially the kind that was promoted by the spiritus rector of Medievalism, John Ruskin. While Haynes regarded photography as mere fact and documentation, Ousterhout observes a unique subjective vision and an aesthetic sensibility that charge his photographs with a distinct energy. Thanks to the formative impact of Stillman, the author argues, Haynes was able to combine the analytical and technical aspects of archaeological photography with the aesthetic sensitivities of the picturesque. This distinctive stance, Ousterhout claims, makes Haynes the “unknown father” of American archaeological photography.

The second book on Haynes, Palmyra 1885, includes eighty-five of about a hundred photographs Haynes took during his five day search trip to the Syrian site. Most photographs are included at the end of the book in the form of a catalogue; they are beautifully reproduced and organized according to the distinct urban and architectural features of the site. In the first two chapters the authors provide biographical information about Haynes, while also focusing on the specifics of the Wolfe Expedition to Mesopotamia, where he served as field manager and photographer. Anderson and Ousterhout situate the expedition within the broader cultural and intellectual context of nineteenth-century American archaeology, drawing attention to the growing interest in Mesopotamia and the rising allure of Biblical archaeology.

The next chapter, entitled “Palmyra and its Desert Queen,” offers a broad and informative account of Palmyra’s past, extending from its earlier history as an Assyrian settlement, to the short-lived but celebrated reign of Queen Zenobia during the Roman times, to its Mediaeval transformation under the Islamic empires. The authors add further topicality to the subject by extending their analysis to the contemporary misfortunes of the site, which was ruthlessly targeted and damaged by ISIS in 2015. The fourth chapter, “The Topography of Palmyra,” brings into close focus the site and its surroundings, expanding upon its geographic setting, its urban form and design attributes. The authors particularly elaborate upon the singularity of the Roman city, abounding in temples and colonnades, and offer an analytical assessment of its layout and architectural details. They are careful to point out the very conditions of the site at the time it was encountered by the Wolfe team in 1885. The Palmyra visit was a short detour in the Mesopotamian expedition, so none of the team members were well prepared to investigate and evaluate the site. Anderson and Ousterhout, therefore, indicate what was visible and meaningful to Haynes, and what remained vague. Through his diary entries, they highlight Haynes’ occasional mistakes and misattributions as he endeavored to piece together elements of the site.

The fifth chapter, “Beasts, Men and Stones,” addresses the collective image of Palmyra in European imagination from the early modern times into the modern age of archaeological frenzy. The authors draw on the rich reservoir of travel narratives, as well as on a variety of visual resources, such as engravings and prints, to provide a textured account of the Euro-American perceptions of Palmyra. The layered image of the site was remoulded in the nineteenth century with the introduction of photography as a superior documentary instrument. The authors include images of Palmyra by the early photographers of the Middle East such as Louis Vignes or Félix Bonfils, juxtaposing them with Haynes’ later renditions of the setting. While Palmyra was already a well-documented site at the time of Haynes’ visit, the American photographer’s output is still significant in terms of its extensive coverage of the site. Furthermore, for the first tine, we see the site imbued with life in Haynes’ photographs. On account his idiosyncratic photographic stance, particularly his interest in involving elements of contemporary life in his compositions, we are able to witness the rhythm of real life in the ruins as they were animated by local dwellers in 1885. Through what the authors call Haynes’ “unobtrusive” engagement with the site, his images “provide our best view of the ecology of the place, a balance between animals, people and things now fully irrecoverable.” (p. 54)

Foraying into uncharted territory within the history of archaeology, the two books offer a fresh and critical perspective on an unacknowledged pioneer of the field. This makes them appealing and thought-provoking for diverse audiences. Both volumes are extremely informative and, at the same time, revealing and enthralling in terms of their visual content. While generously served with photographic illustrations, the books would have benefited greatly from the addition of maps, which would have helped the readers follow the peripatetic archaeologist in his journeys across a wide and complex geography. That said, there is no question that these well-written and well-illustrated volumes make an original and noteworthy contribution to multiple scholarly fields, as they reinsert John Henry Haynes in the map of photographic and archaeological history.

Ahmet Ersoy is a historian teaching at Boğazici University,

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