Timbuctu : Where the Camel Meets the Canoe, a Visual Journey with Joseph Hunwick

'Salt comes from the North, gold from the South and silver from the country of the white men, but the word of God and the treasures of wisdom are only to be found in Timbuktu.' - West African Proverb.


Joseph is a gifted photographer and he manages to capture with breath-taking clarity the atmosphere and vitality of the place and its people: the taste of the dust, the parching heat, the stunning architecture of its buildings, it's cemeteries, its celebrations, its silversmiths, its street scenes, the graceful and proud Tuareg, the pirogues of the mighty Niger and the somewhat hazardous games of the city's many mischevious children! As well as many beautiful images of the unique Sufi scripts the city's legendary library contains.

Timbuktu is almost mythological, a byword for the hidden, the exotic, the undiscoverable, the unimaginably distant. It has seen Arab dominance, European colonisation, and countless Tuareg raids. But throughout the centuries camel caravans made epic journeys across the Sahara to reach the markets of this legendary city where they traded salt, gold, slaves and textiles – and, the most enduring legacy - books.

Many of these last are unique calligraphs of the canonical texts of Islam, its laws, devotional texts and Sufi writings, but these priceless and beautiful collections of Timbuktu also encompass the Islamic sciences of astronomy and mathematics, as well as incidental letters from Emir to neighbouring Emir. Timbuktu became one of the world's great sanctuaries for scholars and a jewel of architecture, culture and civilization.

The exquisite manuscripts of Timbuktu form the lavish visual heart of the book 'The Hidden Treasures of Timbuktu', which Joseph produced with his father, John O. Hunwick, one of our greatest scholars of the literature and culture of Islamic Africa. Joseph's pictures are a wonderful historical record - all the more important now because they were taken before the recent Islamist assault on the city and its irreplaceable library.

'It is clear that Timbuktu was, and still is, a homeland for scholars, and one of the most important places in sub-Saharan Africa for Islamic knowledge. God willing, it will remain so. God bless its people.'_John Hunwick.

Many works were partially destroyed by the Islamist invaders, enraged by the heterodox wisdom of the Sufi texts. Joseph, through his father, is well-acquainted with the librarian who saved the collection from further damage & obliteration. These works are of inestimable value for their historical significance, their rarity, their beauty and the treasures they contain but also because, though written in the Arabic script, many transliterate and preserve local African languages and are a rich resource for scholars, historians & linguists that has been hardly mined to this day.


Joseph Hunwick

Joseph Hunwick has been a professional photographer for 25 years, specializing in documentary and fashion photography.

He was educated at a Quaker boarding school and spent 8 years in Cairo in his teens and twenties where he learned the discipline of capturing the effect of natural light on desert, on stone, on fabrics, and on people.

His work appears within and on the covers of The New York Times, Sunday Times, Die Ziet, Tatler, Cosmopolitan & Marie Claire. He has created portraits of Kenneth Branagh, Carla Bruni, Darcey Bussell & Catherine Zeta-Jones and works with brands such as British Airways, Monsoon, Vidal Sassoon.

He also runs workshops in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Santa Lucia on fashion portraiture, in particular the use of natural light to create iconic fashion/portrait/documentary images.

2013Martin Keeley