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Antoin Sevruguin’s Portraits of 19th Century Persia

Antoin Sevruguin is one of the first photographers to document life during the 1785-1925 reign of the Qajar dynasty in Persia. Born into a diplomat family in the Russian embassy in Tehran in 1830, Sevruguin traveled around the country as an artist and photographer portraying the everyday lives of the Iranian people from 1870 to 1930. Gaining celebrity status for his photography, he was employed by Nasser al-Din Shah personally to photograph court parties, events, monuments, landscape, and cityscapes around the country. He even went on to open his own photography studio in Tehran, which further popularized the concept of portraiture and family photography for everyday people in the capital city.

Perhaps his most intriguing works are those that depict Qajar-era women in semi-erotic “European” poses, quite an extraordinary occurrence considering the conservative nature of Persian culture at the time (many of the women photographed by Sevruguin were the Shah’s consorts from his own harem). The photos are further stunning in the sense that they illustrate the kind of inequality and cultural confusion that existed in a slowly modernizing Persian society in the late 19th century. Below are some of the selected works from Sevruguin’s portfolio:


Barber Dyeing Nasir Al-Din Shah’s Mustache

Photograph of Three Women



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Beyond the black-and-white, there was nothing.

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