This essay focuses on the genre of pilgrimage photography as it developed over the course of the twentieth century in the holy city of Mashhad, Iran. Photographs made during pilgrimages to the shrine of Imam Riza count among the most popular vernacular genres of Iranian photography. Pilgrimage photographs should be understood as sacred photo-objects, at once signifiers and carriers of piety. Once framed and taken home by pilgrims, they not only capture and memorialize the sacred encounter, but also carry the aura of the divine into the mundane space and time of the everyday. I focus on the particular visual language of these sacred photographic objects; a visual language achieved through costumes, gestures and body language, through painted backgrounds with symbolic themes. Second, I consider the kind of cultural work and pious affect they elicit as image-objects when placed in pilgrim’s homes. I end by briefly considering the recent changes and continuities brought about by digital imaging technologies.
For details about the city see Zabeth (1999) Streck and Hourcade (2007).
See Farhat (2014) for details of these practices and Algar (1974) for the role of religion in the Safavid era including discussions on the pilgrimage to Imam Riza’s shrine.
Between 1888 and1905Nuri took many photographs of shrines in Iran and Iraq including the shrines of Shii Imams and their descendants (Aghda 1391/2012).
See Harris (2004) and Haganu (2006) for similar examples of the combination of photography and painting (or other forms of art and decoration) and the particular pious work that such combination achieves in the case of Tibetan photographs and Romanian Orthodox photo-icons respectively.