John Beasly (sometimes mistakenly Buckley, which was his father's middle name) Greene was a French-born (in 1832 in Le Havre) American archeologist, who was the son of a Boston banker living in France, whose company, based in Le Havre, in late 1854 was called J.B. Greene & Co.
Greene lived at 10 rue de la Grange Bateliere in the 9th arrondissement of Paris and was a student of photographer Gustave Le Gray. In 1854 Greene became a founding member of the Société Française de Photographie and belonged to two societies devoted to Eastern studies. Greene became the first practicing archaeologist to use photography, although he was careful to keep separate files for his documentary images and his more artistic landscapes.
Afflicted by ill health he died tragically young but his surviving work, including scenes and still lifes in Paris, but principally scenes of Algeria and Egypt, are some of the most radical in early photography--proto-modernist in their construction.
Before his departure to the Middle East, Greene studied for a year with Gustave Le Gray creating numerous views of Paris, still lives and landscapes. In fact, the two photographers most likely photographed the forest of Fontainebleau together as two of their views of the forest from this year are nearly identical.
In 1853 at the age of 21, Greene embarked on an expedition to Egypt and Nubia to photograph the land and document the monuments and their inscriptions. Upon his return, Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard published an album of 94 of the over 250 photographs that he took on this journey.
Greene returned to Egypt the following year to photograph and to excavate at Medinet-Habu in Upper Egypt, the site of the mortuary temple built by Ramses III. He discovered the Celebrated Egyptian Calendar, and he cleared several Egyptian colossal figures, including the massive figure of Ramses III. In 1855 he published his photographs of the excavation there.
The same year, Greene visited Algeria, this time at the recommendation of his doctors for the favorable climate. He photographed the region of Constantine province in northeastern Algeria, where he met fellow archaeologist Louis Adrien Berbrugger, who led him on an expedition to excavate Christian monuments in the region. Greene photographed the course of the excavation in December 1855, January 1856 and April 1856. These photographs are collected in an album in the Academie des inscriptions bequeathed by Berbrugger who praised the quality and archaeological value of the photographs.
Greene died in Egypt, reportedly in Cairo in November of 1856, most likely of tuberculosis. His negatives were given to his friend, fellow Egyptologist and photographer Théodule Devéria. Despite his untimely death at the age of 24, Greene left a wealth of photographs all from the waxed paper negative process between the years of 1852-1856.
For more information, see: History of Photography (Vol. 5, No. 4, October 1981, pp. 305-324) for an article entitled "John B. Greene, an American Calotypist".
His work is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France; the George Eastman House, the Musée de l'Élysée, Lausanne; the Smithsonian, American Art Museum; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the National Gallery of Canada; the National Gallery of Australia; the J. Paul Getty Museum; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and many other institutions.
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Medium Salt print from paper negative
Mount on original mount
Photo Date 1854 Print Date 1854c
Dimensions 11-13/16 x 9 in. (300 x 229 mm)
Photo Country Egypt
Photographer Country United States (USA)
Contemporary Works / Vintage Works, Ltd.