*** Syria photography

Syria: Photography

Figure 1.--This Felix Bonfil photograph shows a Beirut carpenter and his assistant about 1870. At the time Lebanon and Syria were all part of the Ottoman Empire. As far as we konw, Bonafil was the first photograopher operating in Syria.

We do not yet have much informaton on Syrian photograohy. The a pttern seems to be similar to that of other Arab countries, many of which were part of the Ottoman Empire. The first photographers were commonly Eurpeans, often French or Greek who introduced photograpohy to suspicious Arab clients. The first photographer we know of in Syria is Felix Bonfils (1831-85) was active as a photographer (1860-80). He moved from France to Beirut (1867) and established a studio in Beirut which at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire and not separate from Suyria. Bonfils photographed extensively in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Greece. His focus was not on selling portraits to locals, but on selling ethnographic images to curious French and other Europeans about the widerworld. At the time magazines could not yet print photographs--they had to be prepared as engravings. And the movies did yet not exist. The only other way that photograohs of foreihn lands and people were available were stereoscopic images. Thus people collected images, often for scrapbooking. We see snapshots appearing in the 20th century, but at first mostly from European familes. Lebanon and Syria became a League of Nations Mandate administered by France until independence (1920-46). The Christian population with closer ties to Europeans seem to have taken to photography more readily than Muslims. We note post-card back photographs after the turn-of-the 20th century. This included both studio portraits and snap shots. We do not yet have many Syrian snap shots, but what we have been able to find is that the snapshots came from Europeans in Syria and European-influenced Syrians who showed a much stronger adoption of European-styled clothing, especially French styles, than was the case for the country as a whole. We note ragged edge snapshots wihout a white border in the 195Os. Unfortunately we do not have enough Syrian snapshots to develop any substantial trend assessment. Snap shots are of course a reflection of both the size of the economn and relative prosperity. And of course Syria as a small, relatively poor country will not have a large photographic record, although it is important to note that thev French colonial era and immediate aftermath was oneof the most prosperous periods of modern Syrian economic history.


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Created: 7:42 PM 4/22/2024
Last updated: 7:42 PM 4/22/2024