Ronnie Close
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Decolonizing the lens
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Chapter 2 addresses the pictorial turn in Egypt’s visual history to envision the indigenous uses and potentiality of the medium. Although rarely mentioned by Western art historians, Islamic scholars contributed to the invention of photography and primary among them was Cairo-based Ibn al-Haytham who wrote the scientifically influential Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics) in the eleventh century. Through such historical innovations the medium became both a subjective lens and psychological space without set boundaries under an age of Ottoman reform and new-found modernity. One intriguing intersection occurred when Orientalist photography met with indigenous visual traditions through the landscape genre. Foregrounded in the launch of the Daguerreotype, the French painter Horace Vernet and photographer Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet went to Egypt to capture its ancient antiquity. However, the lesser-known work by Egyptian photographer Muhammad Sadiq Bey (1822–1902) consists of images of sacred sites of the Islamic world. This unique photographic history contradicts the commonly held perception that Islam harbours injunctions against human representation or Muslim restraint in regards to the visual arts. Local photographers did much to redress the Eurocentric colonial lens and produce other representations of the landscape that emerge out of different social concerns and aesthetic traditions to transcend dominant visual frameworks.

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Decolonizing images

A new history of photographic cultures in Egypt

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