Durkje van der Wal: Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje: The First Western Photographer in Mecca, 1884-1885
Rijksmuseum Studies in Photography, vol 9.
Orientalism was extremely popular in the 19th century. Not only with photographers, but also with artists and researchers. But there was one city that non-Muslims could not go to: Mecca, the city that Muslims must visit once. Between 1503 and 1885 only fifteen Westerners managed to get – disguised – access. As the first westerner, Islamist Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje succeeded in taking pictures in the ‘forbidden city’. Before that he converted to Islam so that he could also participate in the Hajj. He immediately became world famous when his photobooks appeared. For the first time, it now becomes clear which obstacles Snouck Hurgronje had to overcome in order to be able to take his photographs. He made the photographs in his first book himself, the second one is filled with photographs by his assistant, the Mekkan doctor ‘Abd al-Ghaffār. His share in Snouck Hurgronjes books and their special collaboration had not been studied before. A highlight is an exceptional, six-part secret recording made with a self-made ‘detective camera’. It was made according to the ‘revolver method’, a glass plate that rotated so that six shots could be made in succession without change.
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