Rowe honors unsung native son
John Henry Haynes was father of archeological photography
Dr. Robert Ousterhout, a professor of Byzantine art and architectural history at the University of Pennsylvania, gave a talk on John Henry Haynes, native son of Rowe and an archaeological photographer, at the Rowe Historical Society's Kemp-McCarthy Museum Sunday.
John Henry Haynes, native son of Rowe.
A famous image John Henry Haynes, native son of Rowe, took in the Anatolian region of Turkey.
ROWE — John Henry Haynes began his life in this small town in 1849, and died, largely unrecognized and apparently unbalanced, in North Adams. In the meantime, he spent 20 years amid the ruins of ancient caravanserais, tombs, temples and monuments, trekking through deserts and mud flats with the glass plates and chemicals necessary to document these finds at the dawn of photography.
In several cases, Haynes’ were the first and only photographs taken before nature or war reduced standing ruins to foundations and rubble.
Haynes’ remarkable life was the subject of a talk Sunday afternoon by Dr. Robert Ousterhout at the Rowe Historical Society’s Kemp-McCarthy Museum.
Ousterhout, a professor of Byzantine art and architectural history at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the university’s Center for Ancient Studies, said he was captivated by Haynes’ photographs while searching the school’s archives for material in his field.
While Haynes’ interest was in providing a scientific record, he captured the poetry of a place in images both evocative and documentary, Ousterhout said, apparently without noticing he was doing so.
“Haynes, I suspect, failed as a photographer because he didn’t realize what a great photographer he was,” Ousterhout said.
Haynes’ career in archeology and photography began after a chance meeting with the president of the American Institute of Archeology, leading to a position with an archeological expedition to Knossos, in Crete. That expedition ended early for political reasons, and Haynes spent the next two months learning from expedition photographer William James Stillman in Athens.
Hooked, Haynes stayed in the Middle East, teaching in Western-style schools and planning photographic expeditions, some made reality with the help of sponsors. As a poor farm boy from Rowe, Ousterhout said Haynes never even owned his own camera.
In 1885, he served as guide, Turkish translator and photographer for the Wolfe Expedition, a search for sites of biblical significance culminating in the excavation of the ancient Sumerian city of Nippur, in present-day Iraq, from 1888-1900.
The campaign unearthed 23,000 Cuneiform tablets, including the earliest known version of the flood story contained in the Bible.
“Basically, everything we know of Sumerian literature comes from that one find,” Ousterhout said. Unfortunately, the work was done almost exclusively by Haynes and a crew of nearly warring local tribesmen. The pressure of the dig led to a mental breakdown early on, followed by another after he returned, made the find of his lifetime and watched the credit stolen by a colleague who swooped in at the last minute.
More than 30 turned out to dust off the accomplishments of this local son, instigated by museum trustee Kathy Heiligmann after finding Haynes’ name on a plaque in the North Adams Public Library.
Ousterhout said little is know of Haynes’ time in the United States, and asked attendees to keep an eye out for lost photographs and documents.
Osterhout is the author of “On the Road with John Henry Haynes: Photographer and Archeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881-1900.”