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Saturday, 16 January 2021

Ancient Egypt immortalised in Gaddis' store in Luxor

Below the veranda of the Winter Palace in Luxor lies a treasure in black and white

Amira Noshokaty , Monday 4 Jan 2021
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(Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
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Tucked in one of the oldest shops outside the Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor, Gaddis' store holds around 2500 glass plate negatives of Egypt’s photographic memory since 1907.

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This valuable part of Egypt’s intangible heritage relates directly to photographer Attaya Gaddis.

“Attaya Gaddis was born in 1889 in Toud village, Luxor,” explained Ehab Gaddis, grandson of Attaya and the CEO of Gaddis and Co.

After Attaya’s father passed away when he was a young child, his mother insisted on bringing him to Luxor to get an education.

“She brought him here and they lived on top of Luxor temple. Back then, the entirety of old Luxor was built on top of Luxor temple,” Ehab added.

“Back then Attaya mingled with the foreigners of Luxor and became the assistant of renowned Italian photographer Antonio Beato, who had a studio and lived in Luxor.”

After the death of Antonio Beato in 1906, his wife shut down the business and decided to leave the country. Attaya purchased Beato’s camera and started his own business in 1907, where the store still stands.

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A photo of Gaddis photography studio and store. Source: photo book Memories from the past, luxor during 20th century

“In 1912, he partnered with a fellow Egyptian photographer named Gergis Seif and together they photographed 2500 glass plate negatives. They covered all of Upper Egypt from Abidous to Abu Simbel,” he added, explaining how their work boomed during World War I and II, because there were no photographers from abroad, so they were the local photographers.”

“Then came the excavation of Tut Ankh Amoun in 1921-22, which made Luxor the Mecca of the west. Royalty flocked to visit Luxor, including the queen of Belgium, king of Italy, as well as King Fouad and King Farouk,” continued Ehab, explaining how these were the golden years of photography.

Soon after Attaya and Seif produced several guidebooks, catalogues, and photos. Unfortunately, Attaya and Seif split up in 1933. Since they split their negatives as well, each one started to complete his own independent photo collection.  

Attaya continued to take photographs until the late 50s, after which he retired and kept his archive of glass plate negatives safe and sound.  Unfortunately, none of Attaya’s children were interested in photography, but they all knew it was a treasure.  

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Glass plates negatives from Gaddis archive. Photo by amira noshokaty

“These things are very special; your grand parents spent their lives documenting it. In 30 years, it will be priceless,” such were the last words of Attaya to his children before he died in 1972.

It wasn’t until 1994, that this treasure was once again in the limelight.

“In 1994, we were approached by the head of the French expedition in Karnak. He told us that Attaya and Seif’s photographs amounted to 60 percent of the photos illustrated in the Egyptology reference book Thebes by Jean Capart, and that they needed more photos from our archives.”

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Thebes book with illustrations from seif and Gaddis photographs

“So, every day we would go and open the archive and make three new prints from the glass plate negatives.”

They continued to do this until technology came to the rescue, and in Cairo they were able to scan the entire archive of glass plate negatives.

“My grandfather was among the first few Egyptian photographers in 1907, and we continue to guard his archive,” he concluded.  

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Attaya Gaddis, mini biography and photo. Source: book: memories from the past, luxor during 20th century

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