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Sacred mystery: The photographers obsessed with the crumbling sphinx

For 50 centuries, the great sphinx of Giza has been a silent witness to history, as nomads, travellers, armies and tourists passed underneath its massive limestone form, stopped to climb on it or simply to marvel at its monolithic presence. “The pharaohs, Ethiopians, Persians, Lagids, Romans, lower empire Christians, Arabs, Fatimids, Mamluks, Turks, French and English have slept in its shadow,” observed the pioneering French photographer and writer Maxime Du Camp. “Nations, religions, mores and laws have come and gone, but it remains.”

The sphinx was hymned by Pliny the elder in ancient times – “In front of the pyramids is the Sphinx, a still more wondrous work of art …” – and by WB Yeats – “Somewhere in sands of the desert / A shape with lion body and the head of a man, gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.” And – as an exhibition called Souvenirs of the Sphinx, Like a Short History of Photography at Arles shows – the inherent mystery of the sphinx has also captivated photographers from the dawn of the medium. Read more.