“Enclosed please find 59 negatives in various holders. These photos were in the possession of my aunt,” wrote Margaret Hartzell in a letter accompanying a small green box she donated five years ago to the archives of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Her aunt was Mary Elizabeth Hartzell, who passed away in 2009 at age 94. From 1952 to 1964, Mary Elizabeth, as she was known, worked for Aramco as the librarian of the Arabian Research Division, a job for which she had been recruited from the American Geographical Society in New York; she had already been taking Arabic language classes at the Asia Institute.
“She was intrepid for a single woman of that time,” says Margaret.
Mary Elizabeth took her photos with a twin-lens Rolleiflex camera, and most of the five dozen images in the box show scenes such as this wintertime weekend excursion of expatriate employees along the east coast of Saudi Arabia. While she is remembered at the library for her meticulous expansion of its collections in both English and Arabic, her carefully composed photos remained largely uncaptioned and undated.