over 10 years ago, Afsaneh Najmabadi asked a question

Thoughts on naming
There is a large number of photographs, from the late 19th-century into the early two decades of the 20th, of women that have marginal naming on photos saying "prostitutes". Others do not have that naming on the photos, but later catalogers have named them thus. Among them are a number of women dressed as men [discussed in a Q & D thread, women dressed as men].

Some of these photographs belong to a certain type of album, including one on WWQI, Firouz Firouz Collection. A late-19th-/early-20th century album, it includes forty one photographs, largely of women. According to a recent conversation with the owner of the album (December 2013), it originally belonged to Muzaffar al-Din Shah, was passed to ‘Izzat al-Dawlah at the time of her marriage to Nusrat al-Dawlah Farmanfarma; photos were added over several generations. Many of the images bear names. Some name particular women as dishonorable/unchaste (bi-‘iffat, bi-‘ismat). At present, I have seen three such albums, all in possession of individual families or collectors. What do we make of this genre of album? They all seem to belong to late-nineteenth or early-twentieth century, and seem to have faded as a popular album type in later periods. Did family album replace them? We have very little, or none, factual information about the named women. Why are they persistently marked, on and off the photographs, as prostitutes, as unchaste? One thing to note is that from the small number I have looked at so far, I have not seen any that on the photograph itself (such as those in Firouz Album with marginal notations) women are named prostitutes; rather expressions include dukhtar-bachchah, or life narrativization (“later in life she became bi-‘ismat” – which does not necessarily imply some sort of “professionalization”, rather a moral reprimand). It is only on those images that have become at some stage catalogued that the ruspi identification has been coded. Others that are in private holdings are verbally reported as such. Snyder in his essay in Things That Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science, (Lorraine Daston, ed., New York: Zone Books, 2004; chapter five) discusses how in mid- to late-nineteenth-century European courts photographs were not initially acceptable as evidence because they were considered indeterminate and unreliable, as talk about talk, as gossip (pp. 214-215). I wonder if we could use the concept of gossip as “an analytical category” that could help us to think about this body of Qajar photographs. Did printing and circulation of these images, putting them in private albums, perhaps writing marginal notes already constituted “visual gossip”? Were the later cataloguers engaged in literary gossip about these gossiping images? How should we as the later viewers and writers about these images deal with how we are engaging in gossip about gossip? I wonder if we could re-visit all the old and new circulating “gossip” about a figure such as Taj al-Saltanah (as a Qajar princess who presumably “later in life became bi-‘ismat”)?
My skeptical interrogation is compounded by the fact that several of the women in Firouz Album, in identical photographs but pasted on separate sheets of the album (perhaps indicating that these photographs were obtained individually by the original collector(s) and then assembled in one album, without any desire to make them consistent) bear different names. Some of the photographs worth analyzing more closely include:

‘Iffat al-Saltanah -- three images: 1275A32; 1275A39 (these two seem to have been taken in one sitting and at a younger age compared to the third, which presumably belonged to her bi-‘iffati period); 1275A2.

Same image named differently -- 1275A36: Qamar al-Saltanah; 1275A9 Nigar Khanum

some are marked as dukhtar bachchah, 1275A19, 1275A13, 1275A26. how does the common suffix, -bachchah, in Qajar Iran work in these photographs? Is this new to this late Qajar period? Does it indicate an echo of previous practice of ghulambachchah-dari, etc., now heterosexualized?


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