Archive | January 2019

Raquez and the Gervais-Courtellemont Mystery

In the Introduction to our scholarly translation of Raquez’s Pages Laotiennes (available here), we bring up a mystery regarding the illustrations. An image in Pages Laotiennes appears to have been taken moments apart from a similar image in another book.

The second image comes from Empire Colonial de la France: L’Indo-Chine: Cochinchine, Cambodge, Laos, Annam, Tonkin, published in Paris in 1901. The author of L’Indo-Chine was Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (1863–1931), a well-known explorer and photographer. He converted to Islam and in 1894 was one of the first Western men to openly visit and photograph Mecca. He would later pioneer the use of color photography using a technique known as Autochrome as early as 1908, an endeavor for which he is now mostly remembered. L’Indo-Chine unambiguously states that “Illustrations, direct from nature, were taken by Mr. Gervais Courtellemont.”

In our Introduction we speculate that the publisher of Pages Laotiennes, F. H. Schneider, got his hands on Gervais-Courtellemont’s pictures and printed them with or without the photographer’s permission. This possibility is strengthened by the fact that several other pictures appear in Pages Laotiennes that were later printed as postcards without attribution to Raquez. For instance, the image of the Lue women that appears in Pages Laotiennes that mirrors the image from L’Indo-Chine was later printed as a postcard by the Saigon-based Mottet et Cie but not credited to Raquez (his other postcards and photographs carry the imprint of either “Collection Raquez” or “Cliché Raquez”).

So far so good…but what we don’t discuss in our Introduction are the other parallel images in Pages Laotiennes and L’Indo-Chine. The situation may be more complex than it appears.

Here is the image from page 391 of Pages Laotiennes:

Raquez claims to have met this group in Xieng Khouang and he describes them in detail on the same page on which the image appears, including details that closely match the clothing. “A group of ladies includes a Phuan woman as full of spirit as a schoolgirl on leave, a Phu Thang in a wide turban falling back over one ear, Laotian ladies from Luang Prabang, even a Lue woman, her waist held tight in a smart jacket of apple green velvet and embroidered armbands around her biceps. Being the good little mothers that they are, they pamper big chubby babies, smothering them in caresses.” The caption reads “Young Lue, Phuan, Phu Thang Women and Girls.”

And here is the same group of women and children in a slightly different arrangement from page 101 of L’Indo-Chine:

The caption on the page reads “Femmes de Luang-Prabang,” but in the table of illustrations, the caption reads “Phou Tai and Lue Women – Luang-Prabang.”

Given Raquez’s description, either he was writing from the photograph or his photograph was used without credit in L’Indo-Chine. Without access to the records of the individual publishing houses, we are left only with conjecture, but there are other parallel images between the two books, and the sheer number of instances is provocative. Here are some more:

The market at Luang Prabang in Pages Laotiennes

Are these the same men in this image of the same market from L’Indo-Chine?

And here is the same Lue girl in both books. From Pages Laotiennes


And from L’Indo-Chine

Any and all comments on this conundrum are welcome!






Raquez in Phnom Penh II

I was digging around the National Archives of Cambodia in Phnom Penh during the holidays and came across an undiscovered letter by Alfred Raquez. These are pretty rare so I was very excited.

The paper was in a very fragile state. One corner had come off and the ink had bled through creating a sort of palimpsest. Here is a scan of the photocopy from the archive.

Check out his letterhead as editor of Revue Indochinoise:

The letter was written on Aug 10, 1904, to Dr. Philippe Hahn. Hahn was the Resident Mayor of Phnom Penh, as well as King Norodom’s personal physician. In 1904 he was named head of the commission to assemble the Cambodia pavilion for the Indochina section of the 1906 Colonial Exposition in Marseille. Raquez, who was put in charge of the Laos pavilion, sent the letter about his own planned mission through Laos to collect material for the exposition (see my article about Mission Raquez in the journal History and Anthropology).

I was able to clean up the text, and with my colleague Paul Bruthiaux, transcribe and translate the letter. See below.

Mon cher Docteur,

Le Gouverneur Général m’adjoint à vous comme je l’ai demandé. C’est fait et j’en suis bien heureux. Le choix a été ratifié par le commission plénière qui s’est réunie Samedi. Je suis plus spécialement chargé de Laos et M. Beau m’y envoie dès Octobre ou Novembre pour recueillir sur place les collections. Parmi celles-ci seront les documents ethnographiques qui formeront un des clous de l’Exposition.

Je vais visiter autant que possible toutes les tribus de Laos en commençant par le haut et voici mon programme:

Acheter un costume d’homme

un        ”      de femme

Avec bijoux, coiffures, accessoires, etc….

Faire mettre sur mannequins par celui q[ui] a fait nos mandarins annamites. Voir Entrée Gratuite, la gravure.

Je prendrai une douzaine de photos toute[s d’]un même type, même distances, mêmes [missing].

Village – Type de maison – Marché – T[out] partout enfants – Groupes d’hommes – femmes – têtes d’hommes et de femmes de très près face – profile – buste qd possible – Enfin, les [illegible] des costumes que j’achèterai.

L’emporte en outre deux phonographes avec 300 rouleaux pour prendre le chant des tribus – leur orchestres – une conversation.

Une notice ethnogr. sera collée au bas des tableaux renfermant les photographies.

On verra donc ces sauvages et on les entendra.

Qu’en pensez-vous?

N’auriez vous pas un emplacement pour qu’au fur et à mesure je puisse faire descendre à Pnom Penh toutes les collections dont nous ferions ensemble le recollement lors de mon passage final.

Je suis bien heureux, mon cher Docteur, de travailler sous votre égide si bienveillante et je suis convaincu que nous ferons bonne et belle besogne. Je vous promets un Laos soigné!

Veuillez agréer avec mes vœux de bonne santé la vive expression de mes très dévoués sentiments.

A Raquez

10 Août 1904


My dear Doctor,

The Governor General has brought me aboard, as I asked. It is done and I am very happy. The choice was ratified by the plenary committee which met on Saturday. I am especially in charge of Laos, and M. Beau sends me there in October or November to gather the collections on the spot. Among these will be the ethnographic documents which will form one of the highlights of the Exhibition.

I will visit as much as possible all the tribes of Laos starting from the top and here is my program:

Buying costumes of men and women, with jewelry, hairstyles, accessories, etc, to put on mannequins by the same craftsman who made our Annamese mandarins [for the 1902 Hanoi Exposition]. See the images in Entrée Gratuite.

I’ll take a dozen photos of the same type, same distances, same [missing].

Village – Type of house – Market – children all over – Groups of men – women – heads of men and women with close-ups of faces – profile – busts, when possible – Finally, the [illegible] costumes that I will buy.

I will also bring two phonographs with 300 blank rolls to record the songs of the tribes – their orchestras – a conversation.

An ethnographic explanatory note will be pasted at the bottom of the tables enclosing the photographs.

We will see these primitives and we will hear them.

What do you think?

Would you have a space so that, as and when I get down to Phnom Penh, all the collections that we brought together could be collated and verified before my final passage?

I am very happy, my dear Doctor, to work under your kindly aegis, and I am convinced that we will do good and beautiful work. I promise you a sleek, meticulous Laos!

Please accept, with good wishes, the lively expression of my most devoted sentiments.


First review of Laotian Pages

The first review of our translation of Alfred Raquez’s Pages Laotiennes has appeared…by Peter Gordon in the Asian Review of Books!

Check it out!

“The book is of course of academic interest, both for Raquez’s detailed (if not always objective) observations of customs, dress, festivals, ruins, temples, and the like, as well as for its first-hand look at the philosophy behind French colonialism. The appeal of the book to the general reader is probably Raquez himself, who is irrepressible.”

Raquez in Phnom Penh

Made my way to Phnom Penh during the holidays to do some work in the National Archives. I found some exciting material that I will share in another post, but here are some other Raquez spottings….

In the Land of Pagodas on the shelf at Monument Books!

It was exciting and humbling to find our translation of In the Land of Pagodas on the shelf at the iconic Monument bookstore. Read a review of it in the South China Morning Post.

It’s also available on Amazon and direct from the publisher, NIAS Press.


At an art-store for tourists near the National Museum, I spotted this framed photo….

It’s Raquez’s postcard of the Laotian performer Sao Si, which was for sale at the 1906 Colonial Exposition in Marseille, where he brought her to perform.

The art-store downloaded a hi-res copy, printed it on canvas, then framed it. They were asking a whopping US$40 for the picture!

Good to see that Raquez’s photography is still scintillating, provoking, and selling…and in a town he used to frequent.

More on Raquez in Phnom Penh in coming posts….

Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled and your wallets open for the impending release of our translation of Laotian Pages


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