Boussolle du Docteur Hamel perdue au grand plateau, à la catastrophe du 15 aout 1820, retrouvée au pied ou glacier des Bossons, le 17 juin 1863.
circa 1863. Original albumen photomontage, 21.6 x 10 cm. Very good. Item #52114
The earliest, and certainly the most infamous of disasters to befall climbers on Mont Blanc was the 1820 expedition of Dr. Joseph Hamel, a Russian naturalist and Counselor of State to the Czar, climbing after a heavy snowfall against the advice of his guides. Setting out from the village of Chamonix, the expedition consisted of four climbers and twelve local guides, three for each of the principals. Nearing the summit via the known route, between the Grand Plateau and the Rochers Rouges, the snow gave way and Hamel was engulfed in the snow. When he was able to extract himself, he witnessed an avalanche pouring down upon the others. The party was swept down 1200 feet, and three of the guides were buried in a crevasse under an insurmountable pile of snow.
In August of 1861, Abroise Simond, a Chamonix guide, discovered portions of clothing and human remains near the lower end of the Glacier des Bossons, In the middle of June, 1863, more remains were discovered. There had long been speculations as to the amount of movement of the glaciers, and the discovery of the three guides some 6 miles from the point of their demise, settled the question - roughly 2 feet per day.
This image of the scene of the Hamel's disaster, the recovery and the compass is certainly one of the earliest examples of photomontage - it emphatically brings together the three separate events into a complete visual statement of fact. Although photomontage was employed as a tool as early as 1857 by Oscar J. Rejlander, who combined some thirty separate negative to make his masterpiece, "The Two Ways of Life", Rejlander's picture tricks the viewer to believe that the event was seamless whole and captured in real time.
There were several photographers active on Mont Blanc in the early 1860s: Auguste-Rosalie and Louis-Auguste Bisson, Aime Civale, Claude-Marie Ferrier, Adolphe Braun, Joseph-Eugène Savioz, and Joseph Tairraz. This photograph contains no signature nor mark of the maker. Joseph Tairraz - a member of his family was one of the guides lost on the Hamel expedition - did photograph the scene where the bodies were discovered in 1863; however, this does not appear to be his work. Stylistically, this closely resembles the work of the Bisson Frères.