Contact Vision: On Photography and Orientalism
This lecture illuminates the ways in which the Middle East has been represented in photographs by Europeans who travelled to the region during a critical period in the development of photography. Considering a range of Western and Middle Eastern archival material from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the lecturer will offer an account of how photography transformed Europe’s distinctly Orientalist vision into what seemed like objective fact, a transformation that proved central to the project of European colonialism. At the same time, Orientalism was useful for photographers from both regions, as it gave them a set of conventions by which to frame exotic Middle Eastern cultures for Western audiences. The lecturer will also show how Middle Eastern audiences embraced photography as a way to foreground status and patriarchal values while also exoticizing other social classes. The lecture aims to demonstrate that, far from being a one-sided European development, Orientalist photography was the product of rich cultural contact between the East and the West.
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