Who were the first Arab men ever photographed?

From sultans to playboys, doctor to shawarma shop owners and terrorist Arab men are seen in very specific ways in today’s media. But how were Arab men first portrayed in front of the camera?

Photo of unknown Bedouin man taken between 1898 - 1914

by Maán Jalal

Culture 24 April 2019

Arab men. There’s a lot to say about them.

Whether they are doctors, engineers, IT guys, artists, entrepreneurs or ordinary guys with ordinary jobs living ordinary lives, often or not the media has portrayed them as toxic, masculine, misogynists. Terrorist soldiers’ followers of dictators. Fanatic sexist, playboys, sons of oil tycoons driving Ferraris, eating hummus and smoking water pipes.

Negative stereotypes are nuanced if you study the narratives long enough, but all have one common thread. Arab men are terrible, terrible people.

It’s hard to understand, define or categories the identity of the Arab man. What makes him? His history, culture, his experience? Or simply how he is presented to the world?

It’s our ethos at The Arab Edition not to prove points but to discover things. Exploration and research is important to us. We are also the first to put our hands up and say, we’re learning about ourselves along with you.

The issue and topic of Arab men and Arab masculinity is one we are committed to understand, discover and share. It’s a story of many facets.

On one of our research journeys we came across an interesting collection of photographs scattered across the internet of the Arab world in the late 18thcentury and early 19thcentury. Though many of us have seen some of these images online we were particularly taken with some of the early photographs ever taken of Arab men.

Bedouins, shoe makers, warriors, soldiers, guides, musicians, sheiks and apparently nobodies – when we collected the images taken by Arabist explorers, wartime photographers and amateurs, they started to make some sense.

Here were the first visual indicators of how Arabs and particularly Arab men were presented to the world.

Although it can be argued that from the images we’ve collected, the photographers behind the camera may not have had a particular intention or narrative in mind, they were simply documenting what they saw (sometimes in a more staged manner), these are, for better or for worse, the start of Arab men in the photographic medium.

Despite who these men were and what their roles in their perspective tribes or in world wars they were photographed to look strong, noble, proud, humble, unassuming and authentic.

Ahmed-ben-Kilgassem, Algeria, 1860s

© Photo: Jacques Philippe Pottea

Bedouin, Warrior, 1898

Warrior on carrying a traditional Az-Zayah hunting spear on horseback. Photo: Frederic Duriez

Palestinian Bedouin, Jerusalem, 1898

A Palestinian in traditional clothes riding a horse at an American colony in Jerusalem, sometime between 1898 and 1914.

Bedouin Man, 1898

Photo: Frederic Duriez

Bedouin men, Jerusalem, 1898

Photo: Frederic Duriez

Bedouin, 1898 to 1914

Soldier, Morocco, 1913

Photo: Stéphane Passet

 Bedouin of Sudan, Aba el Lissan, 1918

French photographer Paul Castelnau met this Bedouin of Sudanese origin in 1918 in Aba el Lissan which was the site of an Arab Revolt battle the year before. Photo: Paul Castelnau

Mohammed el Sheheri, 1916 – 1918

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124491

An Algerian worker in Noyo, France, 1917

The Algerian worker in Noyo, France was photographed in 1917 after the retreat of the Germans in WW1. Photo: Fernand Cuville

Algerian guard, Pommiers, France, 1917

Photo: Paul Castelnau

Algerian noble, early 1900s

Southern Arabian Warrior, Jazan, early 1900s

Algerian man in traditional clothes, early 1900s

Portrait of a young Arab man, early 1900s

Inlaid-Slipper Maker, Damascus, Syria, 1900-1920

Arabian Emir, Damascus, Syria, 1925

Photo: Jules Gervais Courtellemont

Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, Arabian Desert, 1926

Sultan Pasha al-Atrash was the leader of the Great Syrian Revolt of 1925. Here he is in the Arabian Desert after fleeing Syria in 1926.

Sheikh Frey Abu Median, Palestine, 1934 to 1939

Bedouin Sheikh, Frey Abu Median of the Hanagreh tribe, Palestine.

Bedouin Man, 1940s

Bedouin man playing a rebab during World War II

Bedouin man Musallim bin Al Kamam Oman, 1949

Musallim bin Al Kamam was the traveling companion of British military officer, explorer, and writer Wilfred Thesiger Photo: Wilfred Thesiger

Mohamed Sirh, Algeria

Muhammad bin Kalut, Arabian Desert

Muhammad bin Kalut was a guide to the Wadi districts of the Arabian deserts. Photo by Wilfred Thesiger

Bedouin man playing the Rababeh

Syrians on horseback, at Palmyra, 1930s

Photo: W Robert Moore from the Nat Geo Image Collection

Bedouin, Saudi Arabia, 1930s

Shoe vendors, Syria, 1940s

Photo: W Robert Moore from the Nat Geo Image Collection

Tribesman of the Wahiba Bedouin, Oman, 1949

Man, Syria, 1954

A man looks on to a waterwheel which brings water from the Orontes River to an aqueduct in Hama, Photo: W Robert Moore Nat Geo Image collection

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