Félix Bonfils (1831-1886)
Bonfils was a family firm of French photographers, Félix, his son Adrien (1860-1929) and finally Lydie Bonfils née Marie Lydie Cabanis (1837-1918), wife of Félix and mother of Adrien.
Félix Bonfils originally a bookbinder, in 1860 he enlisted and was sent to the Levant. He liked Lebanon and when his young son Adrien developed respiratory problems, he decided to emigrate. In 1867 the Bonfils family moved to the dry climate of Beirut and opened a photographic studio there. Félix photographed extensively throughout Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Greece. The Maison Bonfils eventually became a large, successful business with branches in Cairo, Alexandria and France. The studio was famous for its Middle Eastern views, and profited from the enormous popularity of organized tours that had opened up tourism in the latter half of the nineteenth century. "Those who are prevented from travelling to these sites through illness, lack of funds, or their domestic situation" wrote Félix in the introduction to his 1878 photographic album Egypt and Nubia "have the possibility to go there at their leisure, at low cost and with little effort, to those countries which many have reached only at the risk of their lives".
In 1878, at the age of 17, Adrien took over the work of photography while his parents ran the studios. As did all large concerns, the firm also hired other photographers to work for them. At some point Adrien turned his back on photography and became an hotelier in Beirut, his mother taking over the family business until she was forced by war to evacuate Beirut in 1917. For many years it was not known that she had taken many of the images published under the Bonfils imprint. Wife of a photographer, mother of a photographer, and a photographer herself, she once said that she was sick of the smell of albumen.
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