In the Arab world, photography is often tied to the modernizing efforts of imperial and colonial powers. However, indigenous photography was itself a major aspect of the cultural and social lives of Middle Eastern societies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Stephen Sheehi'
s The Arab Imago: A Social History of Indigenous Photography 1860-1910
(Princeton University Press, 2016) tells that story, focusing primarily on portraiture and those that took portraits. Sheehi examines the formalism of portraits in relation to changing notions of class, questioning whether or not portrait photography were creating new forms of sociability or vice versa. But photography is also another way Arab modernity was in relation to Ottomanism: The Arab Imago
looks at how portrait studios developed in Istanbul and beyond, often operated by Armenian and Greek Orthodox photographers. The Arab Imago
integrates photography, modernity, and the banal to give us one of the first histories of photography in the Middle East.
Stephen Sheehi is the Sultan Qaboos bin Said Chair of Middle East Studies and Director of the Program of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) at the College of William and Mary. He is Professor of Arabic Studies as well, and holds a joint appointment in AMES and the Arabic Program in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. He did his doctorate at Michigan. His work largely examines cultural, intellectual, art history, and the political economy of the late Ottoman Empire and the Arab Renaissance (al-nahdah al-arabiyah
Nadirah Mansour is a graduate student at Princeton University's Department of Near Eastern Studies working on the global intellectual history of the Arabic-language press. She tweets @NAMansour26 and produces another Middle-East and North Africa-related podcast: Reintroducing.