16 amazing photos that are among the oldest from the Middle East, the Philippines and India

They are part of the 250 or so images that will be featured in Louvre Abu Dhabi's first photo exhibition, starting April 25

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Examples of the earliest photos taken outside of Europe will go on display at Louvre Abu Dhabi next month. Around 250 historical works will be on display at the Saadiyat Island museum.

Photographs 1842 – 1896: An Early Album of the World is an expansive collection of photos taken in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines and India, reflecting the museum's chronological, rather than geographical, approach to curation. The breadth of the images runs from the Middle East to Africa, and Asia to the Americas.

The exhibition will run from April 25 to July 13 at Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the works on show mostly originate from Jacques Chirac's collection; complemented by loans from Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Musee National des Arts Asiatiques – Guimet, Musee d’Orsay, la Societe de Geographie and La Cite de la Ceramique – Sevres & Limoges.

The works act as a tracing of the global dissemination of photography. When the art form first fanned out across the globe alongside explorers, religious and military expeditions in the mid 1800s, it created a whole new way of documenting and understanding the world's people.

Regionally, the earliest photographic images of Saudi Arabia and Yemen by Auguste Bartholdi will be on display, as well as the first picture ever taken of Makkah, by Egyptian photographer Sadiq Bey in 1881.

View of the Holy Shrine and the City of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 1881. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris
View of the Holy Shrine and the City of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 1881. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Many of the photos on display, all taken outside Europe, were considered 'real' reflections during their time, and they did offer people a humanising glimpse at those on the other side of the globe for the very first time. But, in retrospect, many are Eurocentric and show outdated gazes at a foreign way of life, rather than a genuine study.

That said, it's important to also see the works, as they informed a huge part of history's view of Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Middle East. Because of this, they will still be part of the prism through which many of us see the world today.

But not all of the works on display were taken by European travellers: the exhibition will highlight works by prominent photographers who documented their home regions, including Luis Garcia Hevia from Colombia, the Abdullah brothers and Pascal Sebah from Turkey, Lala Deen Dayal from India, Marc Ferrez from Brazil, Lai Fong from China, Kassian Cephas from Indonesia, Alexandre Michon and Nikolai Charushin from Russia, Francis Chit from Thailand, as well as Ichida Sota and Suzuki Shin'ichi II from Japan.

Some of the first-ever photographic imagery of the Philippines will be part of the collection, too, with works from Pedro Picon.

“Photography is one of the most important tools that has contributed to documenting the history of the world and its diverse cultures," said Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. "When visiting Louvre Abu Dhabi this summer, visitors will be able to travel to new places and explore different regions of the world through the eyes of 19th-century European travellers in the museum’s first-ever photography exhibition.”