At the end of the summer of 1991, just before returning to medical school, I travelled around Egypt with my then boyfriend (now husband) Tom. It was our first trip together and my first time visiting ancient temples and ruins. It was a real adventure, like being in an Indiana Jones film. We drove around the Valley of the Kings on a motorbike, where we had the temples to ourselves; we had the best tomatoes of our lives at an oasis in the desert; we lost and then recovered all of our travellers cheques (remember those?) while skinny dipping in a hot spring under the stars; we learnt the Arabic numbers in order to catch buses; we tasted spices in a bazaar in Cairo. It was a dream holiday in many ways. And of course we took lots of pictures!
We had always planned a return trip to Egypt but the political situation had been not ideal especially when planning to take children. Finally in early 2020 we had felt the time was right and booked flights for April 2020 which were later cancelled as COVID spread around the globe. So at the start of this year as travel restrictions were starting to ease after the pandemic, Tom asked me where I wanted to spend my significant birthday. I did not hesitate with my reply: Egypt. With our children. Once the schedule was in place I started to read up more on the country, its history and its culture. I hunted down documentaries (The Square, The Nile) and books, both fiction (Slipping by Mohamed Kheir) and nonfiction (Andre Aciman’s Out of Egypt, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson).
But which cameras should I take? For a while I considered taking our Rollei medium-format camera, after watching a documentary on Harry Burton, who used a large-format camera to capture the drama surrounding the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb. The Egyptologists’ Notebooks, a book filled with illustrations, diary extracts and faded photos from journals kept during those early heady days of Egyptology, also inspired me to keep a travel journal of my own, something I have occasionally done in the past. So as well as my main digital camera I decided to take an instant camera, so I could take pictures along the way and include them in my journal along with tickets, postcards and other items. I have quite a few instant cameras to choose from, but I decided to take my Leica Sofort, which uses the Fuji Instax format. And for that nostalgic feel, I chose to shoot black and white film.
During our trip I really enjoyed the challenge of looking around each site we visited to choose what I would select to photograph. I only had a certain amount of film, so I was limited to shooting two or three images a day. I also had a steep learning curve as I had never shot black and white instant film before, and had to get used to its behaviour in different conditions. In the evenings I would then occasionally get together with our daughter to collate and collage our journals. (Tate has been keeping this kind of notebook for many years and was able to share a few tips as we went along.)
My travel journal presents a distinctive view of our trip — an old-fashioned, analogue perspective rather than a modern, colourful one. And there are still some pages left at the end of the journal — pages that I hope to fill with more adventures. That’s the plan, anyway!