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The expedition under the guidance of the French scholar Paul Pelliot (1878– 1945) conducted between 1906 and 1908 gave one of its participants, Charles Nouette (1869– 1910), the opportunity to constitute a comprehensive archive of over fifteen hundred photographs. Hereafter referred to in sources as the Mission Paul Pelliot, this expedition intended to unearth and bring back ancient artifacts (manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, etc…) found in several places across Central Asia and China.
Nouette was originally a self-taught photographer who only later became familiar with archaeological methods. Biographical information about him is rather scarce, except from the obituary Pelliot wrote in his memory in 1910. Thanks to this we know that Nouette was originally an electrician and that illness had prevented him from continuing in this profession. He then dedicated his life to photography and this, combined with his scientific knowledge and natural ingenuity, attracted the attention of various contemporaries, notably Pelliot. He died in Paris from tuberculosis at the age of forty-one while he was still developing Pelliot’ s expedition photographs
Interestingly, Nouette’s photographs provide a useful case study for examining the emergence of preservation and archaeological concerns, the growing place of photography in academic disciplines like archaeology, while highlighting how these images interacted with local and international cultures.
All images: Courtesy of Musée national des Arts asiatiques - MNAAG
In case you missed it, watch the video below in which the French writer Arnaud de la Grange introduces his novel "Les Vents Noirs" that draws its inspiration from the Mission Paul Pelliot.
More information: • www.guimet.fr• Cabos, Marine. Creating Heritage and the Mission Paul Pelliot: Early Photography of Dunhuang and their Legacy." The Chinese Historical Review, 25:2 (2018): 97-117.• Guerin, Maxime. "Paul Pelliot, archéologue de l’extrême-Asie." Conflits, September 21, 2019.