Our Art / Désiré Charnay
Equal parts artist and explorer, Charnay (1828—1915) was a French photographer who captured some of the earliest images of pre-Hispanic archaeological sites. Despite the heat, humidity, and technical challenges of developing wet plate photography in the jungle, Charnay managed to capture dozens of accomplished photographs that provide the first documentation of many iconic archaeological sites.
Charnay hired large crews to raze the dense vegetation and photograph the monuments. Although very destructive in his techniques, Charnay created some of the best images of the New World that conveyed an artistic sense of grandeur to his contemporaries in Europe. His photographs made the case to his contemporaries that Mayan and other early cultures of Mexico were the equals of the great cultures of the Old World.