This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals
The presentation concludes about two and a half years of archival research on the early photography of Iran.
Photographs are peculiar things. The early pioneers of the medium dubbed them ‘writing with light’ but praised them as material traces of reality. Material, because they withheld a physical impression of whatever was in front of the lens of the photographer in the form of the light reflected off of its surface, real because they were not interpretations of the real – as were paintings – nor were they testimonies to the real, as were histories; they were unobstructed witnesses. In other words, they allowed for the absence of the interpretative hand of the author to be creative on its own. For almost the first time, the relation of the representation and the represented was unmediated.
The question for this presenter was then how universal are these theorizations? Through a close archival review of early photography of Iran, I came upon a decided departure from these notions in the capacity of photographs to become mediums of story telling, both visually and textually. To make sense of this departure, the presentation aims to locate the medium of photography in the already existing frameworks of art and literature. To locate the local flavor of early photography of Iran, the presentation thus browses objects as diverse as muraqqa’s, travelogues, newspapers and painting in different settings and mediums. A choice of three distinct collections – Ali Khan Vali’s album, Sevruguin collection of glass-plate negatives and a few albums, both family and commercial and both in public (Smithsonian) and private collections– will provide the paper’s archive. The diffusion of mediums that constitute this archive, on the other hand, allows for the strands of this argument – text, collection, painting – to make sense under the unifying rubric of photography. Ultimately, the presentation aims to locate the novelty of the medium of photography within the existing systems of collection making and story telling.