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Boys, Girls, and Kodaks

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Peer Albums and Middle-Class Personhood in Mid-Twentieth-Century Egypt

image of Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication

This essay looks at a little studied genre of photographic albums—‘peer albums’—created by young Egyptian men and women through the middle decades of the twentieth century. These strongly gendered albums are characterized by the visual exclusion of social seniors, and were typically kept hidden from them. As photographic objects embedded in particular social relationships and contexts, these albums speak of how a classed and gendered self emerged in early- to mid-twentieth-century Egypt through a range of practices, of which photography-making (and album-making) was part. But photography also had its own agency in engendering new practices. The social efficacy of vernacular photographs was predicated on a combination of photographic indexicality and performativity. Through the making of such albums, young modernity-claiming Egyptians were asserting, performing and negotiating the parameters of their middle-class urbanity, their emerging positions as modern gendered subjects and as adolescents. Together with the range of peer activities in which they were embedded, these albums represented zones of autonomy free from patriarchal control, but still nested within larger patriarchal structures. Ultimately these albums show how particular historical subjects come to be through engagements with objects; and how patriarchy and individualism construct each other.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, University of Birmingham, UK


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