Death on Display

Mirza Riza Kirmani, Prison Portraiture and the Depiction of Public Executions in Qajar Iran

in Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication
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This article focuses on two sets of images sparked by the assassination of the Iranian ruler Nasir al-Din Shah in 1896—photographs of his murderer Mirza Riza Kirmani as a prisoner and photographs of his execution—as a significant episode in the history of photography in Iran. These images are more than mere illustrations of a historical event. Rather, they mark an important semantic shift both politically and photo-historically. These photographs thus allow us to interrogate how photographs visualized power relations in late Qajar Iran, and also how their deployment evolved in the rapidly changing social and political field. The photographs of Mirza Riza Kirmani should also be understood in the context of legal and penal reforms of the period, as they make visible the changing perceptions of the criminal as a particular historical subject.

Death on Display

Mirza Riza Kirmani, Prison Portraiture and the Depiction of Public Executions in Qajar Iran

in Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication

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    Figure 1

    A. Sevruguin, Mirza Riza Kirmani. Nasir al-Din Shah’s Assassin, 1896, albumen print. Freer and Sackler galleries, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, FSA A.15 11.

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    Figure 2

    A. Sevruguin, Seated Dervish Holding Engraved Axe, 1880–1890, albumen print. Freer and Sackler galleries, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, FSA A.15 06.

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    Figure 3

    M. Abdallah Qajar, Portrait of Mirza Reza Kermani, 1896, albumen print. Collection of András Bánkuti, Budapest, C.9.1.6. Published in Kelényi and Szántó (2010: 69).

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    Figure 4

    Unknown photographer, Mirza Riza Kirmani. Tehran, August 1896. Collection of Azita Bina and Elmar W. Seibel, Boston.

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    Figure 5

    Unknown photographer, Mirza Riza. Tehran, August 1896. Collection of Azita Bina and Elmar W. Seibel, Boston. Inscription: ‘Mirza Reza Kermani, Murderer of Naser al-Din Shah. On the gallows.’

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    Figure 6

    A. Sevruguin, Public hanging of Mirza Reza Kirmani, August 12, 1896, albumen print. Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, FSA A.15 12.

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