Following the other posts that I wrote about 19th century photography, Here I have gathered some pictures which centres around men. We could see them in various social settings which is very different from photographs of women. In Iran many important studies have been carried out and published on the history of photography but I generally find them descriptive and not critically analytic. A lot could be said and done in this area.
One of the familiar categories in this area is that type of photos whereby men appear in relation to power figures. They might appear in groups or alone according to their social status. The above photo was taken in one of royal courts and next to the statue of a Gajar Shah. The people were related to Shah and their bond was somehow emphasized. That is probably the reason that specific characteristics of the individuals (faces, bodies, etc) wasn’t focused.
Another photo of a Gajar Shah with his usual companies. They are probably in the country for hunting. This tent is considered posh and their cloths are quite distinct from the ordinary people. Here, photography meant to demonstrate and preserve their privileges. If the aristocrat Gajar women were displayed as the property of Shah, or in relation to their husband’s power and wealth, here men are framed with their properties such as building, court, servants, luxury objects, etc.
Beyond the royal court yet in relation to that, there were powerful social groups such as religious institutes, progressive educational centres, high profile members of Bazaar and so on. They formed another important category of photos.
Soon after its invention, camera entered Iran and became a favourite object of feudal and powerful members of the society. Here you see a photo of a recently discovered photo album called Vali Khan Album. He was a powerful feudal in the central Iran at the time and this album includes pictures of himself, members of his family and important people in his circle plus pictures of lands, properties and his belongings.
However, beyond the pretentious display of properties, another category of photos developed which framed ordinary people. Just like the European kind, there was this fascination to make spectacle of criminals, ethnic minorities and rare situations and people. Here, you can see that prisoners were lined up before the camera to create such a spectacle. Although, there is a difference with it the European ones. The pictures of criminals, mentally ill and ethnic people were registered scientifically there. In the 19th century Europe, there was a fascination with camera as a tool which was completely objective and could capture the perverse core of the so-called abnormal people. I don’t think that such obsession with the scientific quality of the photography could be seen in these photo. Rather what is overwhelming is the demonstration of power of the one (Shah and his state) who could enchain people in this brutal way. The camera testifies to the power of its owner.
One of the important category of photos belonged to the pedlar photographers. When camera entered Iran, Nasere-din Shah and other aristocrats were interested in the new tool and practised photography themselves. Yet, they realized that the new tool had an extraordinary power to reveal the country to them. Thus, when a school of modern science was opened in Tehran (as part of the project of modernization) along with engineering, medicine and foreign language, photography was thought too. The graduates disseminated throughout the country and as many of them could not afford a fix studio they practised it in the streets. A lot of the photos which depicts people in their everyday life were taken by this group of unknown photographers.
One of the interesting point about the Iranian 19th century photography was that it was populated by various kind of people old, young and children. Clearly, they were not asked to look at the camera. Each of them gaze at a different point.
In this type of photos people were not separated according to their class positions, social hierarchy, etc. The geometrical design which we could see in the royal photos (shah as the centre and feudal and powerful members of society around him) is absent here.
I like that kids are everywhere. Their social space was safe and protected them. Nowadays, it is impossible to let the kids out of home on their own.