Claude Joseph Désiré Charnay
Claude Joseph Désiré Charnay was one of the first Europeans to photograph and document Pre-Columbian ruins in Mexico and Central America, and his images are considered a valuable record of a transitional pre-historical Mexico. Expeditionary photographers of the nineteenth century embodied the era’s ideals with courageous and daring exploration of the natural world in the name of discovery and documentation. Charnay’s travels between 1857 and 1886 bore faithful witness to sites in Central America, Java, Madagascar and Australia for the sake of history and his own restless spirit. His first Mexican expedition began in 1857, at the height of the Mexican Civil War, and was often disrupted and threatened by sporadic battles. After some delays, Charnay left Mexico City for Oaxaca in September of 1858. Five months later, in March of the next year, his supplies and luggage had still not made the journey and he was forced to improvise with local materials. Even with these delays and challenging climate conditions, Claude Joseph Désiré Charnay was able to produce a significant body of work. When Charnay returned to France in 1861, he prepared two volumes of his photographs, called Cites et Ruines Americaines: Mitla, Palenque, Izmal, Chichen-Itza, Uxmal, which provided Europe with the first photographs of the mysterious Mexican monuments.