To Capture a Cherished Past

Pilgrimage Photography at Imam Riza’s Shrine, Iran

In: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication
Peyman Eshaghi University of Ankara, Department of Divinity, Turkey

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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.

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