Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dawn of Orientalism

I believe that Celeste Lacroix only touches on what Orientalism is today. It doesn't address what I feel is the real beginning of Orientalism and why it has carried over the way it has into modern society. It stems from photography and artistic paintings depicting the Oriental world from the 19th Century.

In 1800's, came the invention of the camera and photography, so to came an interest in science and cataloging the world. The first color camera was invented by the Lumiere Brothers, who are also credited with the invention of the first moving picture camera.

A man by the name of Albert Kahn, a French millionaire, decided to use the Autochrome method of color photography pioneered by the Lumiere Borthers, which used potato starch on a glass plate; to collect color photos of the people and places around the world. He imagined that this collection, would be accessible to everyone, allowing them to see far away places and understand what they look like, and view the peoples of those places. It was to be known as "The Archives of the Planet."

Unfortunately, the stock market crash of the 20's, which caused the Great Depression, also put an end to the Kahn Collection. But not before it had gotten an astonishing start over 20 years. It consisted of some 72,000 Autochromes and 183,000 meters of film.

Some of the collection is view-able online here:

Besides with the photographers that Kahn sent out, other scientists were also collecting photographs; some to spread racism. These people were collecting images of the people specifically to show how different and strange they were compared to the Western white population. Photography was used to illustrate how primitive they were and how they needed to be colonized and civilized by the Western world. In many of these photos, subjects are posed nude, as to reveal any differences in their physical proportions. It also takes away their humanity and objectifies them.

In the art world, things were very similar. Artists, influence by the stories of the mysterious women of the Orient and the sensuality of them, often depicted them lounging and seductive poses.

Some images illustrate the barbarism associated with the Oriental world. One painting by Eugene Delacroix depicts the execution of women and horses, the destruction of gold and fabric, which was ordered by an Arabian king, because he would rather destroy it all before the concurring army took it from him.

In my opinion, this is where Orientalism got its start. It stems from a need by the Western white world to rule over the more primitive peoples they come in contact with, and a desire to educate them. It is also my belief that this carries over into the fantasy that modern people have about the Middle East or Asia.

These images from the past are still influencing our view of what the peoples and cultures of the Oriental world look like, when they are far from it. This influence is ingrained in our culture and may take another 100 years before we are free of the stereotypes began almost 200 years ago.

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