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These Photos Show The Timeless Appeal Of Travel And Tourism

“Now that travel has opened up, you can access more places and see more things. Our definition of travel photography has changed.”

Posted on September 29, 2021, at 2:39 p.m. ET

A woman wears a dress and floral headpiece in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in a midcentury photo
Unidentified Maker, courtesy George Eastman Museum

A woman at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Sept. 20, 1951

Under lockdown, travel photography fueled our jealousy, longing, and admiration. For travelers back in the 1800s, photographs were important in another way: “You might have gone to that place, but you couldn't take a picture of it, so you buy one to show people back home,” said Jamie Allen, an associate curator at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York.

An upcoming exhibit looks at the museum’s extensive collection of travel and tourism images through the years. Lilyan Jones is the project cataloger for the Alden Scott Boyer Collection at the Eastman Museum. Working with the museum’s photography collection, she goes through over 13,000 items that were given to the museum, some of which range from the very beginning of photography to the 1950s.

“I chose this theme because at the time I was starting to work on this, we were stuck inside. I thought it would be nice to look at pictures from all over the world,” Jones told BuzzFeed News. “There are a lot of early views of Egypt, people climbing the pyramids; there's also early views of India and Japan and even Niagara Falls.”

Four people climbing up the pyramids in Egypt
Pascal Sébah, courtesy George Eastman Museum

"L'entree de la Grande Pyramide," circa 1875, from the album Berlin to Cairo

The George Eastman Museum was named after the creator of the Kodak company. Eastman was a pioneer in film and photography, and the museum fittingly claims to be the world’s first focused solely on photography.

“Early travel photography was going to be seen by people who weren't able to travel themselves,” Allen said. “Now that travel has opened up, you can access more places and see more things. Our definition of travel photography has changed.”

Allen said the goal of the exhibition is to pull gems from the museum’s collection that don't typically get shown. Of the 450,000 total items in the photography department, she said, “some of these photographs don't get to see the light of day. There are photographs by Ansel Adams that are more surprising, and this gives you an opportunity to look at other things that a photographer did than just what they’re famous for.”

She added, “Tourist sites weren't so prescriptive back then. In the early days, you wouldn’t have your own camera, so the person who is making the image is a professional photographer, and you're purchasing that image from them or from a store.”

Here, we looked at some of our favorites from this show, which include photographs from over 100 years ago.

A person in a hat stands on a steep ledge overlooking the Grand Canyon, holding a camera
Fannie E. Coburn, courtesy George Eastman Museum

Photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn at the Grand Canyon, taken by Fannie E. Coburn, 1911

A child sitting on a water fountain, a child sitting on a raised platform, and a smiling woman leaning against a monument and nursing a baby
Jim Alinder via George Eastman Museum

The US's geographic center in Kansas, photographed by Jim Alinder, 1973

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris in an 1800s photo with no people present
Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Évrard via George Eastman Museum

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, photographed by Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Évrard in 1851

Two side-by-side images show a man in a hat looking through a clearing at Niagara Falls
William England

The American Falls of Niagara Falls, 1859

A group of four people, one with a walking stick, descending Mount Vesuvius
George Eastman Museum, gift of Laura S. Albright

"Descending Vesuvius," taken by Raymond K. Albright, circa 1890

A panorama of the Grand Canyon with multiple photos stitched together
© Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe

"One Hundred and Five Years of Photographs and Seventeen Million Years of Landscapes; Panorama From Yavapai Point on the Grand Canyon Connecting Photographs by Ansel Adams, Alvin Langdon Coburn and the Detroit Publishing Company," 2007

A group of men in hats, one playing guitar in the center, one looking at the camera in the far right
George Eastman Museum

A man playing guitar in Aguascalientes, Mexico, taken by an unidentified photographer, 1890

A man stands near a doorway in China near two other men, one standing in shadows, on an otherwise empty street of storefronts
George Eastman Museum, gift of Alden Scott Boyer.

"Physic St(reet) Canton," taken by John Thomson, 1868–1872

A panoramic view of Hong Kong Harbor, with several boats, ships, and other vessels on an expansive body of water, stitched together between three photos
George Eastman Museum

"Hong Kong Harbor. Taken From Above the City," photographed by Lai Fong, circa 1868, from the album "Photographs - Japan, China"


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.