By the latter half of the nineteenth century, several pioneer photographers had travelled to the Middle East and North Africa, bringing back to Europe and North America images that captured the idea of the exotic. Whether in search of Nile temples, the Holy Land, or Berber costumes; whether amateurs or pilgrims; whether part of scientific missions or commercial ventures, these photographers all sailed to harbours such as Algiers and journeyed through central cities like Cairo or Damascus. At a time when western political and military involvement in the near east was at a high, the photographs taken helped to convey an idea of chaos and disorder, insalubrity, and a lack of self-governance in the region.

Yet today these very same images offer a different reading, one that could challenge these earlier assumptions. From bird’s eye to ground views, from outdoor vistas to interior domains, examining these photographs provides a portrait of an urban reality brought to light one century and half ago but at the time only partially understood.

Curator: Jorge Correia, Universidade de Minho.
Graphic design: Atelier Pastille Rose, Montreal.


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