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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Félix Bonfils

Other: Bonfils & Co. 
Other: F. Bonfils 
Other: Felix Bonfils 
Joint: Maison Bonfils 
Dates:  1831, 8 March - 1885
Born:  France, Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort
Died:  Alais
Active:  Lebanon / Israel and Palestine / Egypt
Bonfils was a family firm of French photographers, Félix Bonfils (1831-1886), his son Adrien Bonfils (1860-1929) and finally Lydie Bonfils née Marie Lydie Cabanis (1837-1918), wife of Félix and mother of Adrien.
Félix Bonfils was born in St. Hippolyte du Fort in France in 1831. Originally a bookbinder, in 1860 he enlisted and was sent to the Levant. He liked Lebanon and when his young son Adrien (born 1860) 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. His work is infused with a sense of exploration and love for his medium. 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, and the later photographs bearing the Bonfils name are often more professional in their technical execution but less interesting as images.
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.
[Contributed by Paul Frecker]
Albums by Felix Bonfils include:
Architecture Antique: égypte, Grèce, Asie Mineure. Album de photographies (1872)
Souvenirs dOrient (1878) 
Stereographs project 
Business locations 
Alais, France 
Beirut, Lebanon 
"Photographies et Edites par..."; issued cat. of views of Egypt, Palestine, Greece, & Constantinople; prod. ÷600 views; 67 opened studio in Beirut, several years later set up branches in Alexandria, Cairo and Alais; issued two listings of views, one for Eur. trade, other for American; listings avail. from NSA Book Service. B. 31, D. 85; started photog. in 65, settled in Beirut, 67 where he opened a studio; first visit to Athens was between 67 & 70 and revisited 78-82. Expert, Fouad Debbas, Paris (book on Bonfils family in work); also SEE The Image of the East, Ingeborg O'Reilly. 
T.K. Treadwell & William C. Darrah (Compiled by), Wolfgang, Sell (Updated by), 11/28/2003, Photographers of the World (Non-USA), (National Stereoscopic Association)
Credit: National Stereoscopic Association with corrections and additions by Alan Griffiths and others.
NOTE: You are probably here because you have a stereograph to identify. Please email good quality copies of the front and back to so we can create reference collections for all.

Preparing biographies

Further research

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If you have a portrait of this photographer or know of the whereabouts of one we would be most grateful.
Family history 
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Visual indexes

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Supplemental information

There is a small text on the activities of Félix Bonfils (1831-1885) in Greece included in:
Haris Yiakoumis, "The Acropolis of Athens, 1839 - 1959", Paris/Athens: Potamos, 2000, p. 35 + several albumen prints reproduced on p. 235 (dated to 1871, but these are late prints after the address added on the negative) and p. 254.
[Contributed by Marc Fehlmann, May 22, 2006]  

Internet biographies

Terms and Conditions

Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Félix Bonfils.] 
• Perez, Nissan N. 1988 Focus East: Early Photography in the Near East 1839-1885 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.) p.141 [Short biography on Félix Bonfils possibly with example plates.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.88-89 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Félix Bonfils was represented in 52 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
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