In 1871, a 22-year-old girl accompanied her future husband from London to New York where they married.
They then travelled to Yucatan in Mexico and began photographing and recording the architectural remains of the lost civilisation of the Mayans.
The girl was Alice Dixon, the daughter of Henry Dixon, a noted Victorian photographer. Her husband was Augustus Le Plongeon – 25 years her senior – a scholar and antiquarian who was convinced that the pyramids of Yucatan pre-dated those of Egypt.
Pat Young of Wooler and District Camera Club is Alice’s great, great niece. In 2016 Pat and her husband Mike retraced the Le Plongeons’ photographic journey and made a visual record of their own which they presented to the club at its latest meeting.
Augustus believed that the people who built the pyramids were at the origins of civilisation – a belief that he never relinquished – and he and his young bride set out to substantiate his ideas by recording as much as they could using the new medium of chemical photography.
This involved large box cameras, collodion plates and a mobile dark room that was pulled along by a horse. Many of their photographs were taken from the top of rickety makeshift tripods and most of the ruins had to be freed of jungle scrub before meaningful pictures could be taken.
Alice also kept a diary and a journal. Using these and the pictures, Pat and Mike were able to photograph the same sites the Le Plongeons visited.
Visiting the remains and using modern equipment brought home the trials endured by those early pioneers. The comforts enjoyed by the modern traveller are a world away from the heat, flies, mosquitoes and rudimentary shelters endured by those 19th century adventurers.