Out of focus
Photography of African slavery in Qajar Iran
As numerous scholars of visual culture have shown, photography plays a critical role in articulating black people’s complex relationship to cultural identity and national belonging. This article questions the ability of photography to document and simultaneously pathologize the history, culture and struggle of African slave communities in Iran. It highlights the complex relationship between the ways African slaves are depicted and the ways slave-holders imagine them. How did African slaves imagine themselves? It also investigates the ways crucial forms of historical documentation of events, individuals and contexts were captured in these photographs. How should we read the histories recorded in such images and imaging practices? What kind of historical knowledge might they provide? Can they provide historians and other scholars of the field with historical ‘traces’ that bear witness to things not put into words?