The Photography of John Henry Haynes

John Henry Haynes at Assos

Victoria Fleck; Halpern-Rogath Seminar

The hill of Assos itself rising full in view while a long distance away was enough to thrill anyone who had learned to love its beauties and had grown familiar with it.

–John Henry Haynes, Unpublished journal, 26 April 1883 (UPM Archives)

As one of the first archaeological photographers, John Henry Haynes participated in several of the earliest American-led expeditions: Assos, the Wolfe Expedition in Assyria and Babylonia, and Nippur. The photographs that he produced from the Assos excavations of 1883 represent the beginning of his prolific career in photography – his Assos Album, now in the archives of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, contains over 250 brilliant images of various aspects of the ruins and of the archaeological investigations. More than mere visual evidence of what Haynes saw at Assos, these photographs were inspired by the “picturesque” studies of ancient architecture and ruins popular during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Thus, although Haynes’s photographs were created primarily as archaeological documents, they also evince his  urge to capture the picturesque “modernity” of Assos’s antiquity – in other words, to portray how Assos’s past was still shaping the world around it. Haynes accomplished this by including Greek workers in the photographs, by deemphasizing the distant grandeur of the major monuments, by including the landscape around a monument, and by crafting “compositions” of objects. (Lyons and Szegedy-Maszak in Antiquity and Photography)

In June 1879, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) made preparations to survey and dig at the classical site of Assos, on the northwest coast of Anatolia facing the island of Mytilene. Joseph Clarke and Francis Bacon were sent to the site to make initial observations, and by the end of 1880, the first excavation party was drawn up. The site was a good starting point for the first AIA excavation due to the presence of an untouched early Doric temple on its acropolis and other extensive ruins. The promise of artifacts (which could then be brought back to Boston and displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts) was another deciding factor.

Haynes was recruited into the excavation in 1881 by Charles Eliot Norton, president of the AIA.  In the excavation report compiled by Francis Bacon (Investigations at Assos, 7). Haynes is simply described as a “graduate of Williams College,” and the only credit he receives for his contribution to the report is that he “took a number of photographs of the antiquities discovered and of picturesque features of the city and its vicinity.” Although the report contains over sixty of his images, they are not identified as his work.

The “thrill” of Assos is evident in the first few photographs of Haynes’s Assos Album, which capture not only ruins, but also the landscape of Assos, its harbor, and the view towards and from the acropolis. Before photographing the ruins and artifacts, which were already in the process of being unearthed in 1883, Haynes took pictures of the panoramic landscape around the site, treating Assos like the popular picturesque sites of Athens and Rome. In these photographs, Assos is not just a site of the ancient past; rather it was placed in a modern context (i.e. landscape) that could help the viewer to understand and interpret Assos as a part of the current day and age. 

Haynes also helped the viewer acquire a more modern impression of Assos by including Greek workers in his photographs of the ruins. Although Haynes included these workers mainly to show the scale of the monuments, their positioning reveals other artistic and ideological motives at work. The workers appear leaning on a masonry wall, standing in a doorway, sitting on a capital from the temple, and peeking out from behind ruins. Haynes probably placed the workers in the exact poses in which we see them, since they would have had to stay still for several minutes while Haynes took the photograph. Rather than solely appearing for scale, the workers are often a secondary subject in their own right.

Haynes chose to highlight Greek workers casually standing or sitting with the remains, sometimes even dominating the picture, as if to imply that they were the true owners of the site and its contents. Yet, although Haynes was aware of the Greeks’ claims to their cultural heritage, he depicts them passively. While the Greeks might have been understood as the rightful inheritors of antiquity (rather than the Americans in Boston or the Ottoman Turks,), Haynes presents another view of them in his diary:

The Greeks impress me as a people who put aside such bane work as constructing buildings, chopping wood, getting out lumber etc., while they have no scruple against pursuing many of the lighter mercantile pursuits, such as buying and selling goods, hunting, hawking, goods about the streets and a thousand other things of like nature. (unpublished journal, 13 May 1883, UPM Archives)

The Greeks of Haynes's day did not bother with admirable tasks such as building great monuments like those he was photographing; nor were they able to wrest from Ottoman hands the land of Assos. Thus, in Haynes’s view, they were inferior to their heroic ancestors.

When Haynes includes the American archaeologists in his photographs, he deviates from the norm of representing archaeology as territorial conquest. Haynes did not photograph Bacon, Clarke, or the other archaeologists “capturing” the ruins and artifacts of Assos; instead, he portrays them in thoughtful poses. Haynes shows his colleagues “doing” archaeology – interpreting what they see, not conquering it. Haynes is clearly not interested in the politics of archaeology, which was the concern of Norton and Clarke; rather his passion for the past and understanding of the present situation made him more sympathetic to the issues of cultural identity and heritage.

While Haynes’s photographs are undoubtedly artistic, they also serve their primary purpose as documents of archaeology. In fact, many of his photographs were directly copied as drawings to appear in Investigations at Assos. The photographs also represent Haynes’s vision of Assos as a living testament to classical Greece. Haynes utilized a variety of photographic techniques to dispel the notion of the archaeological site as isolated in the past. Through Haynes’s lens, Assos is not only the site of picturesque ruins, but also a relic of Greek antiquity that shapes its surroundings even in the modern age.