Magazine article The Middle East

The First Photographers

Magazine article The Middle East

The First Photographers

Article excerpt

Saudi Arabia is a young state - a child of the twentieth century. Forged by the young Ibn Saud, later King 'Abd al Aziz, in a series of campaigns between 1902 and 1926, its formal declaration in 1932 as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia came just in time for the oil discoveries of the 1930s. Oil production which was to transform one of the world's poorest countries into one of the wealthiest, set it on the path of modernisation. By 1953, the year of the King's death, Saudi Arabia's rapid emergence into the modern world was well underway. The first photographs of present-day Saudi Arabia appear to have been taken around 1861.

Saudi Arabia By The First Photographers, a newly published book by William Facey with Gillian Grant, charts the progress of photography in the Kingdom through these years. As Facey notes, after 1841, which witnessed important technological advantages in optics, the Middle East region attracted a number of early European photographers. Egypt, Palestine and Syria were the focus of their interest, not only because of their spectacular antiquities and their biblical associations, but also because of their strategic importance to Britain and Europe. By the 1860s commercial photographic studios flourished throughout the Middle East, particularly in Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Beirut, Istanbul and at Port Said after the opening of the Suez canal there in 1869.

Despite the spread of photography elsewhere, the Arabian Peninsula remained aloof. Except along its Gulf and southern coasts, its territories were of little interest to European powers and, in any case, were officially penetrable only by Muslims. The first photographs of what is now Saudi Arabia seem to have been taken in 1861 by a visiting Egyptian officer, Colonel Muhammad Sadiq, who photographed what he claimed were the first pictures ever taken of the Prophet's Mosque at Medina. …

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