A man you’ve most likely never heard of helped capture a story of one of the world’s most famous men and helped another man win world-wide acclaim.
Archaeologist Howard Carter made headline news around the world when he uncovered the legendary tomb of King Tutankhamun in November 1922, but Harry Burton, the photographer who captured King Tut’s life story in photos, has been mostly forgotten today.
Between 1914, when Burton was first hired to work on the expedition, and his death in 1940, photographer and Egyptologist Harry Burton produced and printed more than 14,000 glass negatives from Carter’s Egyptian expeditions. Dozens of his photos appeared in The London Times following the announcement of the find, driving interest in all things Egyptian—from popular songs, to clothing design, architecture, books, stage shows, movies, and more.
Much of what we know about the life story of King Tut, who ruled for just ten years before his death at about nineteen years of age in approximately 1324 B.C., is thanks to Burton’s magnificent photos. And, as a modern-day photographer working to recreate the photos for an upcoming BBC documentary on Burton and his work has found “taking photographs underground on glass plate cameras, coping with scorching heat, dust, and sand, and developing the fragile glass negatives in a makeshift darkroom in another pharaoh’s tomb with no electricity or running water was not as easy as it sounds.” Indeed!
The documentary’s narrator, Margaret Mountford, chair of the Egypt Exploration Society, says the film “is the story of the most famous photographer you’ve probably never heard of. . . . He shunned the limelight, although his pictures made Carter a star.”
As for me, I think that “personal historian” Harry Burton needs to be given the recognition he deserves for helping save photographic evidence of one of the oldest life stories on record.
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