Stephen Sheehi


On his book The Arab Imago: A Social History of Portrait Photography, 1860–1910

Cover Interview of May 24, 2017

A close-up

The introduction is a fruitful place to meander and to get a sense of the book. It covers a lot of ground. It also provides a short, traditional overview of the master narrative of the history of photography of the Middle East. It introduces some enframing issues of photographic portraitures and some teasers to the content of the book. It opens with an unknown vignette about the first photograph of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, taken by Muhammad Sadiq, a Khedival topographer and pioneer photographer of the Hajj.

The introduction is also the place where I recognize my shortcomings, where I could not go, and the spaces left that we need to explore. Namely, I recognize that most of the photographers I studied are male and that there is a larger unwritten, indeed invisible, history of women’s participation in early photographic ateliers. I recognize the central role of Armenians, which I cannot fully access because of language limitations. I also recognize that there are a number of other photographic genres (group portraits, candid photography, scientific photography, amateur photography, etc.) that emerged between 1860 and 1910 that I could not explore.