CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


MIRJAM, Brusius
“Without any aid whatever from the artist's pencil”? Persian Photography at the Crossroad between Europe and China

Session 7 Translation and Change

University of Oxford 


In 1844, the same year W.H.F. Talbot published his seminal book The Pencil of Nature in Britain, the first photograph was taken in Iran. Two years earlier Queen Victoria had sent a camera as a gift to Naser-al- Din Shah, King of Persia. Yet what arrived was merely an apparatus. What mattered more for the further development of the photographic picture in Persia were existing local traditions of image making, partly influenced by East Asian craft practices. Unlike in India or Egypt, where photography was an imported product of imperialism, photography in Iran was thus ‘visually translated’ early on and became a self-driven technology. The Shah actively promoted the medium and became himself a photographer. This makes the royal collection a visual source reflecting contemporary interests of politics, ideology, power and hegemony. Yet photography was not immediately accepted in Persia. Influential clerics had initially considered the new medium as ‘unreal’, since photographs were thought to be made without any help by the human hand. This was precisely the argument advocates of photography also put forward in support of the contested medium. In exploring these political, religious and philosophical debates this paper asks if and how photographs were considered a threat in a culture in which images were not unconditionally accepted.

MIRJAM, Brusius 

Dr Mirjam Brusius, MA History of Art, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, PhD History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, is a Research Associate at the University of Oxford. She previously held Postdoctoral Fellowships at Harvard University, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz. Mirjam’s research centres on the history of photography, museums, collecting and scientific voyages in and between Europe and the Middle East. Her monographs (De Gruyter 2015/The University of Chicago Press forthcoming), co- edited volume (Yale University Press 2013) and recent articles concerned the scholarly archive of the British inventor of photography, gentleman of science and antiquarian W.H.F. Talbot. Mirjam is currently working on her second book The Canon under Threat. Objects without Status and Processes of (De)canonisation of Middle Eastern archaeological Finds in 19th century Europe. She also writes on early photography in Iran and more widely in the Middle East. In 2016, she was awarded the Aby Warburg Prize for Early Career Scholars.