John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire
Reviewed by Paul T. Nicholson

John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire, 1881–1900, by Robert G.
Ousterhout. Cornucopia Books, 2011. 148 pp, ISBN 978-605-62429-0-8. £20.00.

The work of John Henry Haynes (1849–1910) is not well known, and in this beautifully illustrated book Robert Ousterhout sets out to explain the reasons for Haynes’ obscurity and attempts to redress his reputation as a photographer.

Haynes did not come from a privileged background. His father, a farmer, died young, leaving the young John Henry to look after the farm and his younger siblings. At 21 he enrolled at Drury Academy, crammed a four-year course into two and was then able to enter Williams College, where he helped to pay for his studies by working for the institution while studying. Although in later life colleagues sometimes complained of the slowness of his work, this was clearly through painstaking effort rather than laziness, and he was undeniably dependable. He graduated in 1876 and went into school teaching.

In 1880 he met Charles Eliot Norton (1827– 1908) who, as first president of the Archaeological Institute of America, recognised Haynes’ interest in the ancient world and secured him a place on an excavation in Crete. The Cretan work was to be led by William Stillman (1828–1901) a rather flamboyant figure, a devotee of pre-Raphaelitism and one time American consul to Crete. In this latter post he had championed Cretan independence from the Ottoman Empire, and this led to his expedition of 1881 failing to gain a firman.

With this disappointment Stillman left Crete for Athens, accompanied by Haynes, and during their sojourn of some two months there, Stillman taught Haynes the newly emerging skill of photography. Ousterhout is at pains to point out that while Stillman was heavily influenced by John Ruskin (1819–1900) and his views on the picturesque, Haynes had no such academic interest in art. He simply knew how to take a good photograph and had picked up the principles of composition from his tutor.

We are also told that Haynes was not especially competent with the technical aspects of photography and often had difficulties in making plates and prints. However, this seems rather unfair. It is clear from the text that he was often supplied with mediocre materials and was
working in extremely difficult conditions. It is equally apparent that he was at great pains to ensure that his photographic plates and other equipment were extremely well cared for, to the extent that his plates were undamaged despite being dropped from a donkey so heavily that the saw it as a tool within archaeology; he wanted to be credited as an archaeologist.

His opportunity arose when the University of Pennsylvania was unable to obtain a field director for their third season of work at Nuffar/Nippur (1893–96). Haynes did his best here in very difficult conditions. Not only was he isolated and unqualified as a field archaeologist, but he was also under constant criticism from colleagues, notably the German scholar Hermann Vollrath Hilprecht (1859–1925), who arrived on site at the end of the project, claimed the credit for finding
a great ‘library’ of cuneiform tablets, and wrote off Haynes’ work as incompetent. Hilprecht was himself eventually censured, but not before Haynes had suffered mental breakdown and the ruin of his health.

John Henry Haynes Overall, Haynes comes across as an intelligent and dependable individual who was often placed in situations for which he was not properly qualified, but who, nonetheless, did his best in them. While he may have wanted to be known as the archaeologist who discovered the Temple Library at Nippur, he is clearly going to be best remembered for the outstanding images he produced, which are used to such good effect in this book.

Paul T. Nicholson

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