ITINERANT PHOTOGRAPHER CHRISTIAN PAIER
IN THE HOLY LAND
Christian Paier (Kristijan Pajer), who is considered to be one of the pioneers of travel photography, was born on 14 December 1839 in Kranj.1 Due to his father’s early death he had to become independent while still very young. After completing his education at the preparatory school in Celje in 1854 – aged fifteen – he began working as a teacher in Zhalec. Three years later he became teacher in the village of Dovje near Mojstrana. He felt an urge to travel so he asked if he could become an assistant at the Slovenian mission in Khartoum. The editor of Dom in svet, Franchishek Lampe, who published details of Paier’s adventures in the Middle East, mentions that before setting off Paier »learnt some basics about photography«.2 In Zgodnja Danica they wrote that Paier learnt how to »paint with light« in Ljubljana and Trieste. They explained to readers that Paier was a »light painter« i.e. photographer or artist, »who with the power of light and the use of special apparatus is able to reproduce on paper the exact same image of places, churches, towns and everything that he has before him«.3
In the summer of 1860, Christian Paier travelled with three friends from Trieste to Alexandria and from there on to the mission station of Shelal. After four months he fell ill with dysentery and had to return to Alexandria. He decided to visit the Holy Land and returned home in February 1861. Then he felt the desire to travel again. Franchishek Lampe wrote: »Whoever has been once to Egypt or the Holy Land never forgets these places. Whoever has drunk water from the Nile, will want to drink it again. Our Kristijan did not have just this desire but also had a restless blood that drove him into the world and did not let him stay at home. Besides, he had learnt the art of photography, which was well developed by that time. And – he preferred to be a photographer and travel around the world than to be a teacher back home. And it is clear: whatever you like doing makes you happy.«4
More than being a teacher, Christian Paier was attracted to photography. After returning home, he made multiple copies and sold the photographs he took in the Middle East.
Paier was the first travel photographer to bring photos of the Holy Land to Europe. In 1864, he gave the album with 26 photographs of biblical places (»Scenes from the promised land. Photographs taken by Ch. Paier«), which is now kept by the Albertina Museum in Vienna, to Emperor Franz Joseph I., who as a token of thanks sent him a gold ring with sixteen diamonds. He gave a similar album of photographs to the king of Saxony.5
He earned the money for his second journey to Egypt by selling photographs he had taken in the Holy Land. Zgodnja Danica published this notice: »Mr Pajer lives next to the star-shaped promenade. He sells large and also very small photographs of holy places, e.g. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the church of the Holy Sepulchre and many similar places.«6
When Paier asked to be issued with a passport in November 1864, the authorities did not want to issue it because he was a military serviceman. He succeeded in smuggling himself onboard ship in a specially made wooden box. The stowaway drew much attention when he arrived in Alexandria.7
In Alexandria he set up a photographer’s workshop. He ordered all he needed for his photography from Vienna. He was joined by a business partner Friderik Meissner who started out working as a baker and then as a servant for the Prussian consul in Alexandria. »He did not know how to make photographs but he was nevertheless passionate about them and was a man with a good heart even though he was protestant,« wrote Franchishek Lampe.8 Paier set off with Meissner for Jerusalem where they set up a darkroom in a guardhouse. Photography proved to be good business as there were always many foreigners in Jerusalem and Paier was the only photographer in the city at the time. He learnt to speak Arabic and Turkish.
Paier used the collodion process and therefore always carried around with him a large supply of chemicals. He used large format plates. The glass plates were the negatives which he copied onto paper in the sunlight. Photographs on photographic (albumen) paper have the same dimensions as the plates, i.e. roughly 20 x 25 cm, in the emperor’s album roughly 30 x 45 cm.
Paier is thought to have lived in Egypt and Palestine for two years.8* We do not know much about Paier’s work after he returned from his second trip. Perhaps he also worked as an itinerant photographer in Carniola for some time, i.e. as a photographer who travelled around and took orders. That is what we can gather from Paier’s public reply to someone from Lashko who complained that many people had not received the photographs they had already paid for.
In 1876, Paier was again a teacher, at least temporarily, this time at Brdo. That is what is written in a notice in Uchiteljski tovarish and mentions that Pajer worked as a photographer in Africa and Asia.9 He also travelled to Hungary.
In 1888, when Paier was working as a photographer in Kranj, he again gave the emperor photographs from the Holy Land. The emperor repaid the photographs with 20 gold coins.10 In the same year, Paier photographed, among other things, the blessing of the school flag in Dobrepolje. He had probably spent some time in that place as the newspaper Slovenec wrote rather ambiguously: »Finally, the photographer g. K. Pajer who stayed here was so kind as to photograph the new flag under which a group of pupils and teachers had gathered.« 11
In 1877 he was given permission to work as a photographer in Ljubljana. He worked as a professional photographer. The workshop in which he took portrait photographs and made copies of photographs from holy places was probably located where Kongresni trg is nowadays. Landscape photographs of Ljubljana and Ribnica have also been preserved. He died in 1895 in the Vodmat suburb of Ljubljana.
Translated from Slovenian by Marko Petrovich
Christian Paier, Mosheja Al-Aqsa, Jeruzalem, okrog 1861–1864, 19 x 24 cm
Nadshkofijski arhiv Ljubljana [Archive of the Archdiocese of Ljubljana], NSHAL 107, sh. 35
Christian Paier, Jeruzalem, okrog 1861–1864, 18,2 x 23,2 cm
Nadshkofijski arhiv Ljubljana [Archive of the Archdiocese of Ljubljana], NSHAL 107, sh. 14
1 Biographical details: Franchishek Lampe, »Potovanje krizhem jutrove dezhele«, Dom in svet, 1894, pg. 27.
2 From: Franchishek Lampe, »Potovanje krizhem jutrove dezhele«, Dom in svet, 1894, pg. 734.
3 From: »Iz Ljubljane«, Zgodnja Danica, 1864, no. 11.
4 Franchishek Lampe, »Potovanje krizhem jutrove dezhele«, Dom in svet, 1894, pg. 27.
5 From: »Iz Ljubljane«, Zgodnja Danica, 1864, no. 33.
6 From: Iz Ljubljane«, Zgodnja Danica, 1864, no. 33.
7 From: Franchishek Lampe, »Potovanje krizhem jutrove dezhele«, Dom in svet, 1894, pg. 734.
8 From: »Poslano / Svarjenje«, Slovenski narod, 1877, no. 268, and »Poslano«, Slovenski narod, 1877, no. 269.
8* »ter si napravil obrazov in podob naj imenitnishih krajev, spominkov, poslopij itd. iz svete dezhele. Kako rad bi imel marsikateri kristjan natanchno podobo od tega ali onega svetega mesta, kjer je n. pr. nash Zvelichar hodil in terpel! Z vsimi tacimi rechmi more postrechi gosp. Pajar: v ta namen naj imenujemo le samo nekatere rechi, ktere se pri njem dobivajo, namrech: Mesto Jeruzalem, kakor se od zunaj vidi; Jeruzalem od znotraj; Betlehem; Oljska gora z vertom Getzemanom; Salomonov tempelj; medzid in mosheja Aksa; dolina Josafat; Absolonov spomin, Zaharijev in Jakopov grob; hrib Môrija; gora Sijon; mesto pri sv. Janezu v pushchavi; Abrahamov hrast; Rahelin grob; pot proti Betlehemu; kópel Betzajda; vrata Sv. Shtefana (kjer je bil kamnjan); dol Ben-Hinom; Betanija; avstrijanska romarska hisha; obtók 'Ecce Homo'; cerkev Bozhjega groba; Jeruzalem, kakor se vidi s hriba Kobus-a itd. itd. Podobe so na belem debelem papirji (kartonu) in razne velikosti, n. pr. po 18 palcev visoke in 24 palcev dolge, pa tudi po 5, 4, 3 chevlje dolge. Vzame se jih lahko vech skupaj ali posamem velike podobe (po 2 gld.); ima jih pa tudi v majhni obliki po 7 palcev dolge in 5 palcev visoke (po 50 kr.)«]
9 From: »Premembe pri uchiteljstvu / Na Kranjskem«, Uchiteljski tovarish, 1876, no. 4.
10 From: »Najvishje priznanje«, Slovenec, 1888, no. 148.
[O Paierjevem delovanju po vrnitvi z drugega potovanja ne vemo veliko. Morda je bil tudi na Kranjskem nekaj chasa popotni fotograf, t. j. fotograf, ki potuje po dezheli in zbira narochila. Tako lahko sklepamo iz Paierjevega javnega odgovora nekemu Lashchanu, ki ga je obtozhil, da mnogi niso prejeli zhe plachanih fotografij. »Da ne bi kdo she kje drugod tako naletel, svetujemo vsakateremu, naj bo previden in naj se ne da prevariti od chloveka, ki je po vsem svetu doma, pa she nemchur povrhu, saj imamo dovolj izvrstnih fotografov s stalnim sedezhem v domachej dezheli.«]
11 From: »Iz Dobrepolja 31. julija«, Slovenec, 1888, no. 178.
[Christian Paier je »Lashchanu« odgovoril: »Kar se tiche brezdomovja, katero meni Lashchan ochita, mu povem, da imam svojo domovino. Da pa nijsem noben slepar, kazhe najbolj to, da je Njih Velichanstvo presvitli cesar l. 1864 moje zasluge, za Njemu podarjeni album slik jutranjih dezhel, poslavil s tem, da mi je podaril brilianten prstan z njegovim presvitlim imenom. Jaz sem poshten chlovek in tako bodem tudi ostal, naj si lazhnjivi 'Lashchan' she toliko trudi moje ime ogrditi.«]