Accepted Paper:

Making Observed. Photographic Documentation of Border Domains in Persia, 1880s-1890s.  


Elahe Helbig (Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut)

Paper short abstract:

By referring to unpublished photographs researched in the photographic archive of the Golestan Palce in Tehran, this paper explores the twofold intention of photographic expeditions in Persia from 1880s to 1890s in order to investigate remote territories and simultaneously observe them.

Paper long abstract:

The photographic archive of the Golestan Palace in Tehran (known as house of albums), constituted during the long-term reign of the Persian king Naser ad-Din Shah Qajar (r. 1848 to 1896), preserves a considerable number of photographic albums, which were commissioned by the ruler himself to investigate certain regions, their administrations and population as well as local characteristics by photographic means. In my paper, I mainly focus on compiled albums that result from photographic expeditions continuously undertaken between 1883 and 1896 by the court photographer Abdullah Mirza Qajar (1849-1908) intended to address, I argue, a twofold objective: The obvious purpose was to receive multifaceted geographical imaginations of barely accessible areas by virtue of photographs carefully furnished with detailed descriptions to be comprehensively informed. To this effect, the photographic content varied significantly, covering, among others, local institutions and personalities, military facilities and base camps, water and irrigation systems, telegraphy buildings and factories, as well as wondrous phenomena. Simultaneously the photographer was endowed with warrants acting as sovereignly legate to manifest the royal authority by unveiled observing and thus attempting to bind even unsafe territories. By making use of this tremendous, largely unknown source I further intend to illustrate how these photographs apparently differ concerning their reflection of vernacular realities as well as their creation of a specific aesthetic language from those taken by Europeans occupying various roles at the Persian court or being on their way in Persia in the second half of 19th century.

Panel P08
Photography in/of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan: historical and contemporary perspectives