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Orientalism and photography

Orientalism and photography
Orientalism according to Edward Said, “expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies” (Said, 2). This defines that Orientalism is the way of thoughts that Westerns (Europeans) have about non westerns specially Asians, and Arabs. The firmed ways of thinking that Westerners have about Easterners as Said indicates make them to illustrate the East in a certain way. As we can find many oriented photographs, articles, and statement by Westerners about easterners, I also have noticed an Afghan girls’ image on the cover of Time Magazine with a statement says “What will happen if we leave Afghanistan?” I think this photograph is an example of Orientalism because of the way that it has been demonstrated and the title that it has been given.
At a glance at the picture, the picture will captures the attention, and it is disturbing. It gives negative feelings like horror, fear, and anger for the viewer because it in a very large sized picture of a girl by the name of Aisha with her nose, and ears cut off by her husband. The focus of the picture is at the face of the girls where we clearly can see violence, horror, and her bad situation in her life, because of the big hole on her face. I think publishing such a picture on the cover of a magazine is exaggerating about the idea of an Afghan woman. It will have a very strong effect; it will construct the idea, or image of all Afghan women in the mind of many Americans negatively. It is true that all Afghan women do not have their full rights, but does it mean one woman’s picture that represents domestic violence can represent the whole nation?
This picture is an example of Orientalism because not only the way it looks has a strong message and affect on Westerners, but also the title that it has is a very direct political message. The title is “What will happen if we leave Afghanistan?” but the fact is that, this picture shows what is happening in the Afghanistan, and it is not related on being or not being of Americans in Afghanistan. Moreover, by “We” the photographer means “Americans,” so the first idea that will come in the reader’s mind is that we should help Afghan women, and he feels sympathetic with the woman who has faced domestic violence. Therefore, this can affect many American, and they will think that the “Neo colonialism” of the U.S.A is just, because they help, the helpless Afghans. However, the fact is that this picture is only one woman’s life, it cannot show the whole nations situation, and the rule of U.S.A over the whole nation. Thus, I believe it is Orientalism photograph because the effect that it has on the westerners can shape their ideas in a certain way, and it also creates horror, and many people will think that Afghan people or husbands are violated, and women are always the victims, while it is not true, and we can’t generalize this idea for the whole nation.
To sum up, As this picture can create certain, unconstructive ideas about Afghan Women, and being of U.S.A in Afghanistan, also according to Said, as it had been taken and published by an American (westerner), so we can see some constructive ideas that the photographer had made him to publish such a picture to demonstrate the whole nation, and this is Orientalism. Images and media play a very important role in a society’s ideology especially in the case of information about the people from other countries. Thus, this picture can create the oriental ideology for the whole American nation (westerners).

Work Cited:
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, A division of random house, 1996. 2. Print.v



Sydney Stead's picture


Dearest Marvah,

This is a excellent and powerful example of Orientalism and your discussion of the topic is incredibly detailed and stimulating. Lila Abu-Lughod has written an article titled "Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?" that addresses similar issues and that I think you might enjoy reading:

Best wishes,

marvah.shakib's picture

Thanks dear!

Thanks for the comment, and sharing this insightful article!
If you found some other interesting articles please share with me i would love to read the situation from different perspectives. specially articles that touches the base of the issues, because most of the times the articles are a vison of the surface of many issues.
once again thanks!


HARMONY's picture

Wow what a wonderful

Wow what a wonderful analysis! you states clearly what the difference is what the picture means to you or brings to one's mind.

We have to paint what our country really is for people to clearly see the truth with the right proportion.

Thank God we are here!

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

rafpirzada's picture


Dear Marvah,

It is indeed refreshing to the mind learning that you have got a discerning eye for such a shrouded institution such as Orientalism. I have been working on Orientalist Project for quite some time now and your piece sounds interesting. I will be sharing my research and views on this in some time soon. Thanks and keep it going



marvah.shakib's picture

Thanks Mr. Rafiq!

I will be very glad to read your research as well! please dont forget to share it with me too!
Marvah Shakib


Amei's picture

Thank you Marvah

It is a wonderful piece of writing and thought provoking too. My thoughts too when I saw that picture. A perfect example how people can distort perspectives with a picture and statement.

I am glad to have read your post. Looking forward to more.

In friendship

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