Ethnographic Portraits

A significant portion of the collection comprises ethnographic portraits of Egypt’s population. These usually include various types of craftsmen, women, and laborers, including musicians, shoe-shiners, water carriers, and barbers. Interestingly in this collection, such portraits rarely captured the urban upper class of Cairo and other Egyptian cities in any great detail. Rather, in stark contrast to images of the cosmopolitan streets of Belle-Époque Cairo, these postcards largely attempted to portray character types of a romanticized historic nature. This trend reflected an orientalist approach popularized over the past decades in World’s Fairs and related publications of the period in literature and academia. The selection here sought to create a sense of a timeless Arab society, featuring a majority of subjects in more traditional dress such as robes, tunics, and turbans. Accordingly, many printers focused a substantial number of their portraits on Bedouin subjects to give a sense of nomadic culture, untouched by modernization and industrialization. Though hardly a comprehensive study of Egyptian society during this period, these ethnographic portraits allow scholars to investigate how postcard printers participated in this orientalist dialogue. Their selections in the Kitty Lord Collection act as a window into the narratives regarding Egypt that they promoted.


January 2017

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