The Orientalist Photograph: An Object of Comparison

Ali Behdad


"My comparative approach to Orientalist photography has enabled me to critique both the postcolonial understanding of Orientalism as merely an ideological discourse of power, as well as the neutral art historical definition of the term as a particular artistic genre, and to posit a notion of Orientalism as a network of aesthetic, economic, and political relationships that cross national and historical boundaries. Understood in this way, I argue that Orientalism is indispensable to the understanding of nineteenth-century photography of the Middle East. Whether considered in the context of their production and dissemination in the nineteenth century or in relation to their current afterlives as collectable objects or archives, photographs of the “Orient” become meaningful and legible only if they are considered in terms of the geopolitical distinctions, economic interests, and cultural assumptions about the Middle East and its people."

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