Talk: Photography and the Middle East:
Documentation, Orientalism and Espionage
Organised by the Barakat Trust and Asia House Arts & Learning
18th April 2019, 18:45 – 20:30
Asia House, 63 New Cavendish Street, London W1G 7LP
Richard Wilding, co-curator of the exhibition ‘Departures’, is a photographer and film-maker specialising in the documentation of heritage and cultural identity in the Middle East. In this illustrated talk he contrasts the objectives and legacy of historical photographers with his own contemporary work in the region.
During the nineteenth century, exciting new archaeological discoveries in Egypt and Mesopotamia generated great enthusiasm in Europe for images and written accounts of the Orient. Following the invention of photography in 1839, the Middle East was the first region outside of Europe and the USA subjected to detailed photographic surveys of landscape, architecture and people.
Enterprising studio photographers such as Félix and Lydie Bonfils followed the traditions of Orientalist painting, creating staged and often highly exaggerated depictions of costume and lifestyles to satisfy European appetites for the exotic. Other photographers such as K.A.C. Creswell and Anthony Kersting documented the Middle East’s architecture and heritage in more factual and respectful surveys. Feted travellers such as Gertrude Bell, T.E Lawrence and Max von Oppenheim combined photography with a passion for archaeological discovery and covert diplomatic service for their respective countries.
Despite their varied styles and motives, these early photographers left a rich visual legacy, now held in institutions and private collections. Several large scale digitisation projects will make these images available for academic research, restoration teams and interested members of the public.
In his own work, Richard Wilding follows in the footsteps of these historical photographers, re-examining the original locations, subjects and objectives from a contemporary perspective. This also reveals the tragic loss of heritage and diversity to twentieth century modernity, sectarianism, war and displacement.
After his presentation, Richard Wilding will be joined by a panel of specialists in historical photography and heritage documentation to answer questions and participate in a lively debate with the audience.