Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hippolyte Arnoux

Guest blogger Clementine Hamelin is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in both Architecture and Geosciences. She wrote this post for Islamic Art and Architecture, a course which surveys the architecture, landscape, book arts and luxury objects produced in Islamic contexts from Spain to India, and from the seventh through the twentieth centuries. The Fall 2014 session was taught by Professor Alex Dika Seggerman, the Five College Post-Doc in Islamic Art & Architecture.

Hippolyte Arnoux, French (active c. 1865). Photograph #1021 from Photographs of Egypt, no date. Albumen print mounted on paperboard. Transferred from Hillyer Arts Library. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1999:23-1ii

The French photographer Hippolyte Arnoux, who documented the construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt, is also known for his ‘ethnographic portraits’ of women often representing fake sultanas.

The woman in the foreground is dressed with loose and light ornamented clothing, her face is partially covered by a transparent veil. It is greatly possible that the model is not herself Egyptian, underlining the effort to create an illusionistic, exoticized and fantasized image of Middle-Eastern women through on orientalist, colonialist – and literal photographic – lens that is characterized by a fascination for the ‘exotic’ orient.

Detail of photograph

The theme of the gaze is an interesting one – the model appears to be looking at herself in the mirror but is in reality looking at the mirror at an angle that makes it appear that she is directly looking at the photographer. She is made into an object to be seen by others – for the male gaze of the photographer, that of the West on the East, as the photographer objectifies and sexualizes the middle-eastern female body through this portrait and technique, which is of course not an accurate representative of the culture that he is representing.

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