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The Photographic Collection

Max von Oppenheim’s collection of early 20th century photographs is among the most important of its kind in the world. The quality and scope reflect the importance he attached to photographic documentation of his travels, excavations, and interest in the Bedouin.

Photo: Albums of photographs from Max von Oppenheim’s collection

Beginning in 1899, Oppenheim engaged professionals employing plate cameras to produce glass plate negatives of landscape, archaeological sites, and special events. The well-known photographers O. Möller, Robert Paul, Otto Schotten, and Waldemar Titzenthaler were among those whom he employed, while the photo journalists Martin Munkacsi and Ernst Gränert were sent to the Tell Halaf Museum by editorial offices of the print media. Oppenheim himself took up photography not long after the introduction of roll film and the small-format camera.

Sharply focused photographs of the Tell Halaf sculptures illustrating them from various angles under different lighting conditions proved to be an unexpected boon after the destruction of the museum. In the absence of such images, it would have been practically impossible to identify precisely the countless fragments with surface decoration and to attribute them properly to specific statues and reliefs.

In 2008, the National Library in Damascus mounted the first exhibition featuring a representative selection of digitized images from the Max von Oppenheim photo collection. A second acknowledgment of the collection’s importance followed in 2011 when the special exhibition “From Cairo to Tell Halaf” was installed in Berlin’s Museum of Photography. Included were over 60 leather-bound photo albums, as well as individual photographs, in Oppenheim’s Nachlass.

Extent and access

The Oppenheim photographic archive comprises about 13,000 black-and-white photographs, available online through the Arachne image database. Prior registration is not required for viewing. The categories include journeys, excavations, the Tell Halaf Museum, and miscellaneous.