Persia through an insider's lens

The new shah was so enthused by the photographic technology coming out of France in the 1840s that whenever he traveled, he carried a pile of freshly shot portraits of himself to present to foreign dignitaries.

Nasir al-din Shah, the Persian ruler, quickly appointed a full-time court photographer to document his movements and converted a palace building into a photo studio.

One who flourished under the shah's latest hobby was a young Armenian Christian named Antonin Sevruguin. The photographer went on to become one of Iran's most artistic and prolific, taking both candid and courtly pictures of the shah as well as striking shots of commoners, monuments, and scenery. His position as insider and outsider gave him unique access to the many layers of Iranian society.

These photos (right) are from a new show at Harvard University's Arthur M. Sackler Museum, "Antonin Sevruguin and the Persian Image" - first seen at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

The shah's mustache dyeing exercise quirkily reflects some of the East-West tensions of the time, as his servants stand ready to assist the European barber.

The village girl's round face, tiny mouth, and arched brows is a study in traditional Iranian ideal of beauty, the "moon face."

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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