Saturday, January 03, 2009

Harry Burton's photographs of King Tut's tomb on display at Michael C. Carolos Museum

As a fellow photographer, I can appreciate the technical difficulties Burton encountered in his efforts to document one of the world's most astounding archaeological discoveries. Apparently he used just two electric lights and reflected sunlight to capture his amazing images. For those of us that can't make it to Emory for this exhibit, the Met published the book "Tutankhamun's Tomb: The Thrill of Discovery" featuring Burton's images.

The thrill of discovery, chronicled as a turning-point in the appreciation of ancient art and societies, connects the exhibition “Wonderful Things: The Harry Burton Photographs and the Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun” at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University to “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center. On view at the Carlos Museum through May 25, 2009, “Wonderful Things” brings to Atlanta 50 photographs showcasing the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. These photographs not only bring to life the excitement of the discovery and excavation of the tomb, but also highlight Harry Burton’s artistic genius as he captured some of the most evocative images ever put on film. Visitors can see how the photographs were taken, the way in which they were used, and how these images of the excavation captured the imagination of the world.

Providing context to the objects from the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Atlanta Civic Center, “Wonderful Things” highlights some of the great puzzles and unforgettable masterpieces from the reign of the “boy king.” Dr. Peter Lacovara, Senior Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art, said, “The Atlanta community is getting a glimpse into what it took to bring Tutankhamun’s treasures to the world, the atmosphere in which they were discovered, and the opening they provided archaeologists in their search to understand this ancient civilization.” Harry Burton’s photography is made more remarkable by his use of primitive equipment under difficult conditions. In addition to Burton’s world famous photographs the exhibit also shows his experimentation with motion pictures and color photography as well as the ways his photographs popularized the discovery of the tomb. On view there is also objects that highlight Howard Carter’s career and his search for the tomb, including drinking vessels of Tutankhamun, on loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, that led to the discovery and a rare sculpture of the boy king himself. Harry Burton’s iconic photographs at the Carlos Museum includes one of Tutankhamun’s mummy mask and another depicting Anubis, god of mummification and the journey into the afterlife, protecting Tutankhamun's canopic shrine containing his internal organs. Also included is a painting by Howard Carter lent by London collector, Rupert Wace, that highlights Carter’s talent as an artist and his love of Egyptian art.

Wonderful Things: The Photography of Harry Burton and the Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun captures every step of the archaeologists' painstakingly detailed work in and around the tomb, one of the first large-scale excavations to be so thoroughly recorded. Harry Burton took more than 1400 large format black-and-white images to try to document the experience of the discovery and excavation. The photographs in the exhibition document the Valley of the Kings, the initial discovery of the tomb, the dramatic moment when the excavators first glimpsed the dazzling array of artifacts, the entry to the burial chamber, the series of shrines and coffins that protected the king, and the king's mummy, wreathed in floral collars and bedecked with gold jewelry. -