Portrait of the Martyr as a Young Man: The Social Lives of Photographs in Revolutionary Egypt

PHRC Research Seminars in Cultures of Photography

Lecture by Dr Lucie Ryzova (University of Birmingham)

November 10, 2015 


In the PHRC’s second seminar of this term, the historian Dr Lucie Ryzova provided the audience with an insight into her recent, fieldwork-based project about the role of photographs in revolutionary Egypt. Through interviews and observations during and after the revolution Ryzova documents the social lives of photographs in order to scrutinise the visibility of the revolution’s martyrs.​

Focusing on the year 2011, Ryzova explained how ID or snapshot photographs of primarily young men who were killed in the course of the revolution were incorporated into acts of personal but most importantly public commemoration, and argued that these variously remediated images became modern icons. For instance, photographic portraits of the dead were cut out and mounted on different backgrounds with the help of Photoshop, they were then transferred into graffiti, photographed again, disseminated in social media networks, printed out, framed again and, finally, took part in procession-like demonstrations wherein people wearing stenciled images of the martyrs on t-shirts, held these portraits high up in the air presenting the face of the revolution. One of her main observations within these practices is the fact that the dead remain undead as long as the revolution itself takes place.

A lively discussion ensued in which Ryzova’s notion of photography, which is embedded in an approach of oral and visual history, was the main issue at stake. Under discussion was if and how far the events on Cairo’s streets elided the various socio-cultural, political as well as religious backgrounds of different groups, households or individuals and how these multi-layered affiliations may have affected the specific production, usage and circulation of photographs. Further issues were raised on the liminal character of these photographs, how performance entered into their remediation and how the concept of “the martyr” can be understood in this context.

Reviewed by Franziska Kunze (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)


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