New and Old: Photographs of the Middle East in Birmingham

‘True to Life? New Photography from the Middle East’ is an exhibition at Birmingham Museum which highlights contemporary photography by acclaimed photographers from the region.  Running from 7th June to 2nd November 2014, the exhibition investigates the role of photography in the Middle East and considers debates surrounding migration and the representation of women.

'Saida in Green’ (2000) by Hassan Hajjaj Copyright the artist / Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V. & A. and the British Museum

‘Saida in Green’ (2000) by Hassan Hajjaj Copyright the artist / Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V. & A. and the British Museum

Such debates can also be informed by reference to photographic collections at the Library of Birmingham.  Whilst contemporary viewpoints are covered, a particular strength is of historic portrayals of the Middle East, primarily from a Victorian & Edwardian European perspective.

Modern Photographic Print of the original ‘Filles arabes porteuse d’Eau’ by Antoine Beato (mid – late C19) MS 2294/6/10/15

Modern Photographic Print of the original ‘Filles arabes porteuse d’Eau’ by Antoine Beato (mid – late C19) MS 2294/6/10/15

This image by Antoine Beato shows female water carriers in Nineteenth Century Egypt. This is a modern copy, but the Library also has a number of original prints by Beato (and his brother Felice) and also photographs of the region by other renowned photographers such as Francis Bedford, Francis Frith and Sir Benjamin Stone.  Images by Stone (below) reveal his interest in the cultures and antiquities of the Middle East.  He was both an accomplished photographer in his own right and a collector of the work of significant photographers and his collection contains Middle Eastern work by H. Arnoux, R. Fiorillo, Lekegian & Co. and others.

‘Boys in the Fair at Luxor’ (1907) MS 3196

‘Boys in the Fair at Luxor’ (1907) MS 3196

 

is ‘Recumbent Statue of Rameses ii’ (1907) MS 3196

 ‘Recumbent Statue of Rameses ii’ (1907) MS 3196

Stone’s pattern of collecting and taking photographs was followed by other travellers, including Helen Caddick whose collection of travel diaries contains many examples of her own work and that of commercial photographs including some of Egypt by Antoine Beato.  Caddick’s diary for Egypt was compiled in 1889 and this tradition of recording impressions of ‘exotic’ travel developed in conjunction with refinements in amateur photography as the Twentieth Century progressed.  Cyril Lander’s view of Egyptian boats captures this spirit well.

‘Egyptian Boats’ Cyril Lander Album (c.1926) MS 1515/24

‘Egyptian Boats’ Cyril Lander Album (c.1926) MS 1515/24

Taken in about 1926, it is included in a holiday album covering a number of locations in the Middle East.  Unlike Stone who was a consummate student of life and Caddick, (with her passion for anthropology) Lander’s interest appears more recreational, giving him relief from his career as a businessman and technical translator.

These varying approaches to photographic representations of the Middle East can be explored at the Library of Birmingham and offer an interesting comparison and contrast with the ‘True to Life?’ exhibition at Birmingham Museum.

Please view www.libraryofbirmingham.com for details of the Library’s collections and www.bmag.org.uk  for details of the ‘True to Life?’ exhibition.

Relevant Collections at LoB

  • MS 918: Helen Caddick: Traveller, Photographer and Collector (contains relevant photographs by Antoine Beato)
  • MS 3196: Sir Benjamin Stone
  • MS 1515: Cyril Bertram Lander
  • MS 4010: Francis Bedford ‘Tour of the Middle East’

 Jim Ranahan                                                                                                    09/06/2014

 

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