How Photography Changed Politics: The Case of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911)


Schwerda, Mira Xenia. “How Photography Changed Politics: The Case of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911).” History of Art and Architecture and MES, 2020.

Thesis Type:

PhD dissertation


My dissertation reconceptualizes the Iranian Constitutional period (1905-1911) as an era of spectacle, in which photography played a central role in defining, mobilizing, and memorializing political movements and their leaders. The first chapter of my dissertation traces the role and impact of one specific photograph: a portrait of Joseph Naus, the Belgian head of the Iranian tax and customs systems, in the costume of an Iranian mullah. The circulation of the photograph, which had been reproduced as a postcard with a caption that purposefully misinterpreted the image, sparked a nationwide protest and turned the previously economic protest into a religiously legitimated one. The photograph became the basis for a fatwa and death threats to Naus. The second chapter discusses photographs of political protest. It focuses on a key event of the Constitutional Revolution, a several weeks-long sit-in during the summer of 1906 in the gardens of the British Legation in Tehran. In my research, I was able to prove that the so far unattributed series of photographs of this event was taken by the well-known photographer Antoin Sevruguin. The third chapter focuses on political portrait photographs from the second half of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, which was characterized by revolutionary and counter-revolutionary violence. I analyze portraits of Iranian assassins and their victims and show how these acts of violence were influenced by global political movements and international media coverage. The epilogue of my dissertation focuses on the events directly following the Constitutional Revolution, when the Russian army invaded Tabriz and executed the remaining revolutionaries. I discuss the photographic documentation of the events, the circulation of the images, and their changing interpretations.

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