The Greek Love of Dancing

Introduction: I can’t recall how many times I have watched the dance scene in the film Zorba the Greek which starts with Alan Bates’ character, Basil, asking Anthony Quinn, “Teach me to dance!” “Dance?” Zorba replies, completely stunned, “Did you say dance? Come on my boy!” The performance that follows epitomizes to me the beauty of Greek culture of which dance is an essential part. I recently acquired a collection of postcard size images of Greeks dancing during various occasion at home and in far-flung places such as Turkey and Egypt. What I noticed from examining the photos is the essential role that dance plays in Greek daily life. When I began researching the subject, I came across an excellent article on the website “Lemon & Olives” explaining the historical relationship between Greeks and folk dancing. The following story originally titled: A Brief History of Greek Dancing, is from Kenton and Jane’s Lemon & Olives, which covers Greek Mediterranean foods and [Read more...]

Featured Exhibition Photographs: “Echoes of the Orient”

One of my greatest accomplishments as a collector of 19th and 20th century photographs from the Middle East and North Africa is to make the images accessible to those who are interested in a visual exploration of the past. It is for this reason that I created the website Photorientalist. What is even more fulfilling is when a gallery or museum discovers my collection and expresses interest in featuring some of the works. In December 2023, I was contacted by the head curator at the Abu Dhabi-based Bassam Freiha Art Foundation , Michaela Watrelot, who came across my website while sourcing photographs for the museum’s inaugural exhibition titled Echoes of the Orient. Ms. Watrelot was interested in displaying images alongside paintings with the same Orientalist theme. The museum describes the focus of the inaugural exhibition as follows: “Centered on the theme of femininity as envisioned through the Orientalist art movement – from candid representations of odalisques in the [Read more...]

Greeks in Walking Pictures: Uncovering a Trend in Historical Photographs

Since I started collecting 19th and 20th century photographs from the Middle East and North Africa four decades ago, I have noticed many trends in the evolution of photography. One of the most revolutionary innovations to hit the industry was the introduction of the handheld camera which allowed anyone who could afford such a device the ability to take their own candid family snapshots. Although the first amateur handheld box camera was invented by Eastman Kodak in 1888, this novelty did not become a threat to established photo studios until the mid 1920s when the 35mm camera was introduced and the proliferation of the compact camera exploded. As I examined images in my collection, I discovered a trend in amateur photography that baffled me for years before I was able to crack the mystery behind it. I first came across this phenomenon as I examined pictures of Greeks living in Alexandria, Egypt, in which the subjects were captured walking on the street alone, with friends, or with [Read more...]

They Are Humans Too…

DATELINE: GAZA 1956 Text and Photographs by Per-Olow Anderson Human suffering is nothing new to me. As a photo-journalist I have encountered many times during the newspaper and magazine assignments that have taken me to seventy-four countries in the past twenty years. But none of my experiences was more shocking to me than my introduction to the plight of the more than one million Palestine Arab refugees in the Middle East, whom I first saw in April, 1956, on my arrival to Gaza on an assignment for a Swedish magazine. The Palestinian Arab refugee exists in misery and despair in crowded camps in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Gaza strip—in caves in Palestine, squatters’ rows near large Arab cities, and the slums of cities themselves. I have seen the squalor of their tents and mud huts sprawled on rocky hillsides and in bone-dry, dust-brown valleys. I have felt their grief and suffering, heard their bitter memories and frustrations, and their tense and emotional cry: [Read more...]

How to Uncurl Vintage Photographs

How to Uncurl Vintage Photograph

As a collector of 19th- and 20th-century photography, I have frequently encountered a problem with vintage photographs curling up when the climate is dry or due to heating during winter. Photographic prints are very sensitive to dry air. For years, I didn’t know how to solve this problem, so I stored the prints in tubes to protect them. Recently, I learned of an easy way to unfurl photos. Here is a video of my homemade solution to this common issue.

Gemmayzeh Before the Bombs: Memories of My Grandparents’ House

By Zina Hemady Beirut’s historical district of Gemmayzeh came under the international spotlight when it took the brunt of the blast that pulverized the city’s ancient seaport and ripped through nearby residential areas killing and maiming dozens of people and causing unimaginable damage. The neighborhood’s charming early 20th century buildings, that had survived the civil war and ensuing gentrification, partially or totally collapsed under the impact of the explosion which ranks among one of the worst of its kind in history. Besides the tragic human toll of this Beirutshima, a blast blamed on the detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, the explosion was yet another blow the country’s cultural heritage. To the generation that came of age in post-civil war Lebanon, Gemmayzeh became synonymous with hip restaurants and bars nestled among architectural gems which miraculously survived the pitched battles that raged only a few dozen meters away, in downtown Beirut, during the [Read more...]

Siwa and Qara Oases in Watercolors and Photographs

In the autumn of 1994, I traveled with fellow photographer and friend Patrick Godeau to the oasis of Siwa in Egypt’s Western Desert to witness and photograph the mulid or religious festival that takes place there every year under the first full moon in October. Siwa lies between the Qattara depression and the Great Sand Sea near Egypt’s border with Libya and is about 10 hours from Cairo by car. The people of Siwa are culturally and ethnically closer to the Berbers of North Africa than they are to the Egyptian who live along the Nile Valley. Even though they understand and speak Arabic, Siwans prefer to communicate amongst themselves in a Berber dialect. Up until the mid 1990s Siwa remained largely off the tourism grid partly due to government restrictions on foreigners traveling to remote areas of the country. Patrick, who had visited in 1983 using a special travel permit, immediately noticed the number of Egyptians from the Nile Valley who had settled in the oasis. To me, however, [Read more...]

Remembering the Jewish Festival of Light in Egypt

The Jewish Festival of Light reminds me of one of the last significant gathering of Jews in Egypt, which took place nearly two decades ago during a Hanukkah celebration at Ben Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo. Jewish guests from different parts of the world, along with foreign residents of Egypt from the Jewish faith, joined the handful of Egyptian Jews for the occasion.  For the locals, the festivities were a throwback to happier times when the Egyptian Jewish community was thriving and numbered in the tens of thousands. Until the creation of Israel in 1948, Egypt’s Jewish community was roughly 75,000.  That number had already dropped from a high of 100,000 at the beginning century due to nationalist fervor against British occupation, which created some apprehension among the Jewish and European residents of Egypt. From the 1920s onwards there was a slow but constant stream of Egyptian Jews leaving the country. The second blow to Egypt’s Jewish community happened right after [Read more...]

Lebanon’s Grand Hotel Sofar Given New Life On Canvas

By Zina Hemady Art and photo exhibits are taking Beirut and, more recently, other areas of Lebanon by storm. As the country regains its pre-war status as a cultural hub, much attention has been focused on preserving Lebanese heritage with the term spanning over several fields including architecture, art, photography, music, oral history, theater, literature and food. The latest such initiative is an exhibit by British artist and conservationist Tom Young featuring the Grand Hotel Casino Sofar, once considered an architectural wonder before it was ravaged by the country’s 1975-1990 civil war. Built in 1892 in the mountain resort of Sofar located on the Beirut-Damascus road, the hotel acquired a reputation as a summer escape for the social elite but also as a playground where the who’s who of Lebanese society rubbed shoulders with royalty, diplomats, and entertainers with whom they spend the evenings playing poker, singing, and dancing. It was occupied by Syrian troops when [Read more...]

UAE Gives 50.4 Million Dollars to Restore Al Nuri Mosque

The United Arab Emirates is contributing 50.4 million dollars to UNESCO for the rebuilding of al Nuri mosque in Mosul, Iraq. The Islamic State (ISIS) destroyed the mosque intentionally in 2017 as Iraqi troops were in the final stages of liberating the country’s third largest city. Ironically, it was from the pulpit of this same mosque that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had announced in 2015 the formation of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The 800-year old mosque, with its iconic leaning minaret, was one of Mosul’s most recognizable landmarks affectionately called al Haba or “the Hunchback.” Pictures of the minaret were found on postcards and are featured on Iraq’s 10,000-dinar bank note. The mosque is named after Nur al Din Mahmoud al Zangi, a leader who was instrumental in uniting Moslems in what is now Syria and Iraq to join forces in defeating the Crusaders in the 12th century. Nur al Din used the spoils he reaped during wartime to build madrassas or religious [Read more...]