Sir Wilfred Thesiger, born in 1910 at the British Legation in Addis Ababa, spent his early years in Abyssinia and was later educated at Eton and Oxford. During the Second World War, he was awarded a DSO for his service in Abyssinia; he later served in Syria and the Western Desert.
Thesiger’s journeys won him the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, the Lawrence of Arabia Medal of the Royal Central Asian Society and the Burton Memorial Medal of the Royal Asiatic Society, while his writing won him the Heinemann Award, Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature and an Honorary DLitt from the University of Bath. He was also awarded the CBE in 1968 and KBE in 1995.
For more than 20 years until 1994, Thesiger lived mostly with the pastoral Samburu at Maralal in northern Kenya, before moving back to Surrey, England, where he passed away in 2003.
During his lifetime, Thesiger accumulated over 5,000 images from his travels in Arabia, especially between 1945 and 1950 that included the crossing of the Empty Quarter (Rub’ Al Khali). He superbly chronicled his travels in and around the Empty Quarter in his classic travelogue, Arabian Sands.
Since 2004, Thesiger’s collection of 38,000 negatives and 71 personal albums were allocated to the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford. In turn, they have organised several exhibitions as well as a publication on the late explorer.
Thesiger’s images are at once down-to-earth and strikingly powerful. The black and white, contrasted portraits of the Bedouins and the unforgiving yet mesmerising dunes of the desert offers viewers a moving story of an idyllic past.