[UCP Books]: Camera Orientalis: Reflections on Photography of the Middle East

“This is a salutary contribution to the study of photography as a global practice, one that has always exceeded Europe and the narrow confines of nation states.”–Christopher Pinney, University College London


Reflections on Photography of the Middle East
By Ali Behdad

US Publication Date: September 5, 2016 Paper $30.00 / £21.00
International Publication Date: September 26, 2016 ISBN-13: 978-0-226-35640-2


In the decades after its invention in 1839, photography was inextricably linked to the Middle East, where the intense quality of light made photographs easier and faster to produce. Exploring a range of Western and Middle Eastern archival material from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Camera Orientalis traces the Middle East’s influences on photography’s evolution, as well as photography’s effect on Europe’s view of “the Orient.”

Ali Behdad offers a rich account of how photography transformed Europe’s distinctly Orientalist vision into what seemed 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. Behdad also shows how Middle Eastern audiences embraced photography as a way to foreground status and patriarchal values while also exoticizing other social classes.

An important examination of previously overlooked European and Middle Eastern photographers and studios, Camera Orientalis demonstrates that, far from being a one-sided European development, Orientalist photography was the product of rich cultural contact between the East and the West.

Ali Behdad is the John Charles Hillis Professor of Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Belated Travelers: Orientalism in the Age of Colonial Dissolution and A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States.


Please contact Rose Rittenhouse at (773) 702-0376 or rittenhouse@uchicago.edu for more information.


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