At about 300 kilometers from the algerian coastline, at the foot of the Aures clump and at the gate of the vast Saharian desert, we encounter a whole string of oases which are known as the Ziban. Among them, stands the queen, the oasis of Biskra : a haven of greenery amidst the partched earth. Professor Roger Benjamin, curator of the « Biskra, queen of the desert » exhibition, suggested me to write an article tracing my ancestors’s history, Auguste and Marius Maure. They held the « Photographie Saharienne » studio for more than 70 years in Biskra.
It is with great pleasure that I intend to present to you this story. However, I would beg the indulgence of all the art historians and ancient photography specialists. Indeed, some facts that I will expose have been related to me orally by my family and could not be considered as indisputable historical facts. If I have chosen to keep them, it is because they are part of the story I am about to tell you : the story of a family that lived in Biskra at the time of French Algeria. I would like to extend a warm thanks to M. Paul Pizzaferi, M. Michel Mégnin and Mrs Hélène Homps that have guided and accompanied me during my researches.
I have never lived in Algeria and never even been to Biskra, yet this city seems familiar to me. Four generations of my ancestors have lived there. My parents have told me its beauties, the mild winter periods but also the excessive heats in summer. They have passionnately loved the city that has been the set of so many joys but also sadnesses that deeply affected my family. The sweet sap of dates and the generous sunrays of Biskra will always remain in my mother’s heart.
Ten years ago, in the context of a genealogical research, I discovered I had ancestors from the 19th century who were photographers. I had never seen any of their photos, because the oldest photos kept by my family were portraits of the 1920s.
My mother is the second of the seven children Habert family. Her father Octave Habert was a blacksmith and a wheelwright. Her mother Jeanne Maure was the daughter of one of the photographers from the Berthe street. His name was Marius Maure, he had succeeded to his father Auguste at the head of the « Photographie Saharienne » studio.
My grand mother notebook
A few months after the start of my researches, my parents gave me a little notebook that belonged to Jeanne, my grand mother. She recalled and related some youth memories. Along with a dozen of photos, she also described a guide written by her father Marius. This guide was supposingly retracing the history of Biskra and the surrounding oases. She recalls her father used to take photos of tourists with a lion, such as « Tartarin of Tarascon ». This animal was in fact an old and blind lion, that came from the desert to finish his life in the Biskra oued. She describes also this photo of three mehara camels, in front of the marketplace arcades. Her father would have presented these camels in 1931, during a colonial exhibition in Vichy.
I was mechanically searching the name of these photographers on the Internet. It occurred to me that hundreds of postcards and photographies, signed by my ancestors’ name ‘Maure’ were shared online ! It did not take me very long to track down the images and photos that corresponded to my grandmother’s descriptions as well as the famous Biskra guide that was written by Marius MAURE. All these discoveries have increased my interest for this research work.
From Barcelonnette to Biskra…
It is in the valley of Ubaye in the south east of France, close to Barcelonnette that were rooted the origins of the Maure family.
Joseph Augustin Maure (called Auguste Maure) was born in Marseille on the 4rth of december, 1840. (1)
He is the great-grandson of Barcelonnette landowners and cultivators. He became an orphan at the age of twelve, and was raised by his maternal grandmother who lived in Cholonge, in the Canton of La Mure (Isère). In 1855, while still a teenager, Auguste goes for the first time in Algeria to Biskra to work with his young uncle Louis Germain Bertrand who was a baker. (2)
Louis Germain Bertrand sets up in 1858 the first mail route by diligence between Batna and Biskra that would be called the « Les Messageries du Sahara ». Auguste takes part at this postal service, driving the mail coach that also transports travellers. He then has the opportunity to meet many artists (painters, writers, photographers) that came to discover the light and the beautiful landscapes of the south Constantinois. No doubt that these people would later be influent for Auguste’s career choice as a photographer.
The El-Kantara hotel was then a post house and a caravanserai. This hotel was managed by the Fouquet family from 1859 to 1863. It welcomed all the tourists that used the diligence to go to Biskra or from it. Louis Germain Bertrand took over the hotel in 1863 and renamed it the « Hotel Bertrand ».
One of the first client of this diligence link was the general Desvaux in 1859, that commanded the place of Biskra. Charles Thierry-Mieg in his book « Six semaines en Afrique, souvenirs de voyage » published in 1861 (1) offers a picturesque description of this ride.
"Photographie Saharienne" studio …
If we believe in the ads of that time and an inscription on one of the studio walls, it was created in 1860. Auguste Maure became the « first painter to have a workshop » in Biskra as indicated by M. Zerdoum in his book about the french people in Biskra (1) : that is how were qualified the photographers.
Biskra was then essentially visited by militaries, the tourists were more rare. Photography was not Auguste’s main occupation, it was not enough important to be a rewarding activity. Because he worked at many different jobs in Biskra, Auguste knew particularely well the Ziban oases and has always been close to the population.
Among the more ancient photos from August Maure, only a few « CDV » of Biskra, with square corners, are likely to be dated earlier than 1870 :
It is worth mentioning that on this CDV, the name of the studio does not appear yet :
Auguste Maure – « Notable européen à Biskra » - circa 1865 – Coll. GD
In 1867-68, a starvation as well as a severe cholera outbreak spreads in Biskra. Auguste, who lived in Biskra, shelters in Marseille were he gets married in november 1868 with Magdeleine Louise Sibille. She also came from La Mure in Isère, like Auguste’s maternal family. He works at that time as a mail man.
If we refer to the deed of partition that was written following his death, we know that Auguste became the owner of a appartment building located « 33, rue Berthe » in 1870. (3) He will settle down his photography studio « Photographie Saharienne » as well as the « Café des Messageries », that sold beer from Constantine, wine, liquor and tobacco. This other activity definitely helped him to supplement his income. According to the commercial indicator Guillon in 1873, Auguste Maure was then a town crier and sold tobacco. (4)
(1) ZERDOUM Abdelhamid, "Les français à Biskra 1844 - 1962", Ed. à compte d'auteur, 1999
(2) Acte de mariage de Joseph Augustin MAURE (dit Auguste MAURE) et de Magdeleine SIBILLE le 19 novembre 1868 à Marseille. Auguste est alors domicilié à Biskra et exerce le métier de "courrier".
(3) Acte de partage des biens d'Auguste MAURE, manuscrit enregistré en mairie de Biskra le 22 oct. 1913.
(4) GUILLON Charles, "Indicateur commercial", Librairies Jules Boyer, Paris, 1873
|Maure - Studio "Photographie Saharienne" - c.1870 - Coll. Nicole PEYRIERE (née MAURE)|
Paul Pizzaferri (1)
Développement du studio "Photographie Saharienne"…
Considering the important military presence in the region, the photography activity gradually expanded. In addition to the portraits, some soldiers had the heart to sent photos of the desert to their families who stayed on the mainland. However, it is only in 1888 with the massive arrival of western tourists who enjoyed the new railway link between Batna and Biskra that photography became Auguste’s main activity.
Auguste MAURE wins a medal at the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1889.
However, he remained unknown for a long time except when one recognized his work in specific art shops. He remained in the shadows of his son Marius, to the point where photographic historians have considered for a long time that Marius and Auguste were the same person. Born in 1871 in Biskra, Marius MAURE takes over the management of the « Photographie Saharienne » studio in 1895.
Auguste passes away on the 3rd of march 1907 in Biskra, leaving to his elder son Marius the property of his photography studio. For more than 70 years, the photographies signed « Maure » have pictured Biskra and its surroundings, its population, visitors, lifestyles, neighborhoods and beautiful landscapes.
(1) PIZZAFERRI Paul, "BISKRA - REINE DES ZIBAN ET DU SUD CONSTANTINOIS", T1, Ed. GANDINI, 2011
(2) Notons qu’entre 1890 et 1920, d’autres photographes renommés s’installeront sur Biskra, profitant de l’attrait croissant de cette région (Fernand PREYS dit FERNANDUS, Emile FRECHON, Alexandre BOUGAULT, Thérèse LANDRON ou Jean RICHARDET…).
The members of the Ouled Naïls tribe of Biskra, dancers and arabic courtesans wearing unique outfits, headdresses and jewellries, have often been pictured by Auguste and Marius.
|Maure - « Ouleds Naïls - Biskra » - c.1880 – Coll. GD|
The lifestyle photographies like the ones shown below are usually very difficult to take considering the concerns of the muslim population. As opposed to the travelling photographers, Marius and Auguste were often close to the people appearing on their photos. Consequentely, the approach was easier for them.
|Phot. Maure – « Intérieur arabe – Biskra » - 1890 – Coll. GD|
Marius wins a gold medal at the colonial exhibition of Constantine in 1896 and of Marseille in 1906.
|Marius Maure – « Intérieur arabe » - 1896 – Coll. GD|
Postcards edition …
Marius was at the origin of the studio conversion in the edition of postcards. Many photos of the studio will be edited as postcards from 1899 to 1910 with the « Maure Phot. » signature and then by the « Marius Maure » signature until 1930. It was an opportunity for Marius to give a new life to his father’s photos that had been taken more than 20 years earlier. He became the local correspondant of France Album, supplying many views and individuals from south Algeria that will be published in quite a few books.
Marius’s style was more modern on a whole series of sepia postcards that he published between the 1910s and 1930s. He collaborated with publishers and printers from Paris like Neurdein (ND Phot.), Lévy & Fils (LL) and then C.A.P : result from the merger of these two companies after 1918. This will allow a larger scale deployment of his photographies.
Editing postcards contributed decisively to the studio’s reputation. Marius Maure took part to the golden age of postcards in Algeria along with other photographers of that time like Neurdein, Geiser, Leroux, Madon, Vollenweider or Bougault.
Maure Phot., Cartes postales - 1900-1910 - Coll. Gilles DUPONT
End of the studio…
In 1934, as none of his children was willing to carry on the family tradition, Marius sold the « Photographie Saharienne » studio with the whole fund to Mrs Thérèse LANDRON. Alexandre BOUGAULT (junior), marrying Mrs LANDRON, will finally take up the studio.
Marius Maure dies in 1941 in Rouïba, near Alger.
The descendants of the Maure photographers have not kept any photos except a few family portraits.
After these last ten years of research, I discovered the history of my ancestors and the reason of their settlement in Biskra. I have found their main photographies, understood their attachment to the city, as well as their close contacts with the inhabitants. Internet has made it easier for my researches, allowing me to constitute a consistent collection of photographies, postcards and ancient books about Biskra. I wrote the history of my ancestors on Wikipédia and then opened several blogs about the photographers, painters and writers that have made the popularity of Biskra during the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century.
These websites allow me to maintain and develop regular relationships and friendships, with amateurs and professionals that love this city and take interest in its history.