Photography, Race and Slavery: African sitters of Qajar Era Iran – Seminar and Exhibition Opening

Photography Race and Slavery
African slaves in Iran during the Qajar era, 1880s. Courtesy of Kimia Foundation.

The use of photographs in research activities and fieldwork is an accepted and regular aspect of contemporary anthropological practice. Whether formally acknowledged as ‘photo-elicitation’, or the subject of casual conversations, talking to people about photographs is something that visual anthropologists frequently find themselves doing. Photographs of enslaved people defy easy categorisation because they are both the record and a relic of the brutal racism and domination at the core of chattel slavery. Photographs of enslaved children, women and men provide compelling and haunting documentation of individuals otherwise lost to the written historical record. Yet the history of such photographs is firmly embedded in the dynamic of exploitation and dehumanisation that lay at the core of slavery.

Photography of Africans enslaved in Iran (1840s-1930s) should be considered as an ignored topic in the field of Iranian studies. These visual sources capture the presence of African slaves who have too often been ignored (till recently) from the socio-historical records of Iran. I view these photographs as powerful images with enduring meanings and legacies. In that context, these photographs are important and perhaps the only visual material that can inform the thinking of readers and scholars about the intertwined histories of African slavery and photography in Qajar Iran. All of these photographs reveal the different ways in which African slaves were posed by others, and remind us to ask ourselves about the meaning of being an African slave in Iran.

Register Now

Organisational units