Auctions | October 10, 2017

At Bonhams: Unseen Photos by Father of Modern Travel Writing

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 8.34.53 AM.pngPreviously unseen photographs taken by the father of modern travel writing, Robert Byron, are to be sold at Bonhams Fine Books, Atlases, Manuscripts and Photographs Sale in London on 15 November. They are estimated at £2,000-3,000.

The images date from Byron’s travels in Iran and Afghanistan in 1933-4 with his Oxford friend, Christopher Sykes. Their journey was later immortalised in Byron’s Road to Oxiana published in 1937, and regarded as the first great book of modern travel writing. The American writer Paul Fussell wrote that The Road to Oxiana is to the travel book what "Ulysses is to the novel between the wars, and what The Waste Land is to poetry." Travel writer and novelist Bruce Chatwin, in his introduction to the book, described it as "a sacred text, beyond criticism.”

The photographs were retained by Sykes and have only recently come to light, found in an old envelope marked ‘Persia. Photos taken by Byron’. The approximately 140 images capture mosques, minarets, bridges, castles, and other antiquities (some now destroyed), several of local inhabitants, and the travellers themselves, including one of Sykes leaning on the giant statue of Shapur I, second king of the Sassanid Empire, in the Zagros mountains in southern Iran. (The statue, which is shown in the photograph lying on its side, where is had been for the past 14 centuries, was repaired and re-erected in 1957).