Grey Wool Knickers They breathe

November 30, 2007

Veni, Vidi, Vici—أتيتُ، ريتُ، فتحتُ

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , — admin @ 12:29 pm

[singlepic=526,240,320,,]Imperial nostalgia through the lens of a camera

I wrote previously about the way in which tourists claim territory they move through by way of maps, but the process seems even more insidious when performed through photographs. The incontrovertible realism of the photographic image lends a similar quality to the exercise of power over space on the part of the tourist. The photograph, unfortunately for them, betrays the lack of confidence and self-assuredness that the sculptor is able to impart to the images of imperial conquerors of yore found in intersections, traffic circles and grand squares around the globe. The pose is noticeably the same, however. The only photographic subjects who do not appear ill at ease are those who parrot the touristic photograph as parody. Some, still, are not able to pull off the irony, perhaps failing to recognize it.


[singlepic=342,160,145,,left]And then, of course, there is the practice of photographing the natives, with its corollaries: photographing oneself with the natives, having oneself photographed by the natives and having oneself photographed AS native. Throughout Egypt, each of these often occurs at the instigation of one of these “natives” as a baksheesh-collecting gimmick. While some modern-day tourists may shy away from these practices (finding them “cheezy”, if they’ve failed to problematize or historicize it further), the “bedouins” or “fellahin” who prompt it are responding to a very real (and apparently easily commodifiable) imperial gaze on the part of tourists (even Egyptian ones). [singlepic=405,160,120,,right]If it can be said that the photograph steals the soul, it is clear that these men have found it profitable to sell their souls to the tourist (I treat them as a collective noun deliberately; more on the construction of a useful tourist later)—even if they’re on the other end of the camera lens—having found that neither their bodies nor their souls can otherwise pay the rent or provide for their families.

The systematic erosion of Egypt’s post-revolution land reform and rent control, coupled with increased investment in tourism infrastructure, both of which have been implemented at the behest of the World Bank, USAID and other international financial insititutions, should be considered in this context.


  1. […] Imperial nostalgia through the lens of a camera, courtesy of our man in Egypt […]

    Pingback by | Is > Than — December 1, 2007 @ 3:18 am

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