Félix Bonfils was a French photographer and writer born in 1831. He was one of the first commercial photographers to produce images of the Middle East on a large scale and amongst the first to employ a new method of colour photography, developed in 1880.
Félix worked as a bookbinder but in 1860 he joined General d’Hautpoul’s expedition to the Levant. Soon after returning from Lebanon he became a photographer.
In 1857, he married Marie-Lydie Cabanis. When his son, Adrien, fell ill, Félix remembered the green hills around Beirut and sent him there to recover, being accompanied by Félix’s wife. The family moved to Beirut in 1867 where they opened a photographic studio called “Maison Bonfils”.
Maison Bonfils produced thousands of photographs of the Middle East. He worked with both his wife and his son. Their studio became “F. Bonfils et Cie” in 1878. They photographed posed scenes, dressed up in Middle Eastern regalia, and also stories from the Bible. Bonfils took photographs in Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Greece and Constantinople (now Istanbul). While Bonfils produced the vast majority of his work, it is known that his wife, Lydie also made some of the studio portraits, especially those of Middle Eastern women, who were more inclined to pose for a female photographer.
Bonfils was amongst the first photographers to employ the new technique of Photochrom, a photographic colour printing technique, developed in 1880.