Overview


Bain turc / Abdullah Frères
Enlarge Bain turc dans le vieux palais, Abdullah Frères, ca. 1860s. The Getty Research Institute, 2008.R.3

Groupe des ulémas / Emile Béchard
Enlarge Groupe des ulémas (Docteur en religion), Emile Béchard, ca. 1870s. The Getty Research Institute, 2008.R.3
The Middle East and North Africa—the "Orient" to 19th-century European travelers—played crucial roles in the development of photography as both a new technology and an art form. At the same time, photography was pivotal in developing and maintaining Europe's distinctively Orientalist vision of the region. Orientalist photographs permit research into the role of photography in shaping European and non-European views of the Middle East and North Africa; further, attention to the local artists, patrons, audiences, and collectors of these photographs troubles the coherence of the "Orient"—both geographically and culturally.

Attending to the exchanges, tensions, and collaborations visible in Orientalist photography enables a greater understanding of the history of photography, the role of cultural documentation both inside the borders of the "Orient" and beyond, and evolving perceptions about the Middle East. However, despite the importance of such images, there is a dearth of scholarly publishing on Orientalist photography. In recent years, essays have addressed some of the aesthetic and political dimensions of these photographs, while numerous exhibition catalogs engage with these photographs in an uncritical fashion. Scholars are still waiting for a definitive and sustained engagement with Orientalist photography that attends to the visual, cultural, political, and technical questions at the heart of this field. The Orientalist Photography research project was developed in order to respond to this need.


Collections


Seébah, / J. Pascal
 
The Getty Research Institute has rich collections of primary sources for studying Orientalist photography. The Pierre de Gigord collection represents the largest group of 19th-century photographs of the Ottoman Empire outside of Istanbul; the Research Institute also holds the most important group of 19th-century photographs of Algeria in North America—many of which were on display in the exhibition Walls of Algiers: Narratives of the City. The Research Institute's collections expanded even further with the recent acquisition of the Jacobson Orientalist Photography Collection which includes 4,500 images of the Middle East and North Africa.


Outcomes


Rue Darb el-Barabra / Robertson and Beato
 
Research project organizers held the symposium "Zoom Out: The Making and Unmaking of the 'Orient' through Photography" on May 6 and 7, 2010. The symposium was a joint project of the Research Institute and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant for Transforming the Humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles. The organizers also plan to publish a book.