The Tourist Gaze

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Cabinet photographs of people and places were popular souvenirs from Egypt in the late nineteenth century.  These examples do not bear the name of the photographer, but Cairo in the 1880s and 90s boasted a number of photographic studios which catered to the European tourist market.

As can be seen from the handwriting, these cards were acquired by the same person.  They show two tourist sites – Pompey’s Pillar in Alexandria and the Tombs of the Caliphs in Cairo – but also a man in eastern dress, leaning on a stick, annotated ‘Turkish Egyptian Dragoman or guide.’

This kind of objectification of local people in ‘picturesque’ garb is common in the European and American travel literature of the period.  It plays into wider and more pervasive patterns of western representation and domination of the east.  (I presume we’ve all read Said’s Orientalism?  Good, I’ll continue.)  This card is a complicated object in so many ways: produced by an imported western technology, in Egypt, representing an Egyptian, sold to a westerner, who had him/herself had Egypt represented to them by an Egyptian interpreter.  I got it on ebay.

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