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The First "Lady Photographer" in the Arab World: The Palestinian Karimeh Abbud

Photography was introduced to Palestine in the nineteenth century first by the British, and then the Germans, with finally the Americans arriving on the scene; all were searching for evidence about biblical subjects and connections.

Palestine has always had a special place within the Arab world for the importance it gives to the pioneering work and education of women. The fact that the first Arab woman to hold the title of professor and to establish and institute in a Western country was the Palestinian Kulthum Odeh (1892 -1965) is a good example of this. Palestine is the leading Arab country in giving women an opportunity to break old social molds; this was also the case in photography, a profession that is male-dominated in Palestine, as it is in most Middle Eastern countries.

Born in 1896, Karimeh Abbud, who is also known as the "Lady Photographer", was the first female professional photographer in Palestine. Karimeh was educated in Nazareth, as well as at the Schmidt Girls School in Jerusalem and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. She lived and worked in Lebanon and Palestine during the first half of the twentieth century.

After being given a camera as a 17th birthday present, Abbud started photography in 1913 in Bethlehem (Mrowat, 2007: 72-8). In the beginning, she took photographs of her family, friends and the landscape of Bethlehem. Her first signed picture available at present is dated October 1919. When she was a student in Beirut, she took a special trip to Baalbek to take photos of the archeological sites there. Abbud set up a home studio and made money by taking photos of women, children, weddings and other ceremonies, as well as many photos of Haifa, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Tiberias. Karimeh's studio work became very popular in the 1930's, and she was proclaimed to be "Karimeh Abbud - Lady Photographer" both in Arabic and English. She took photos of places with religious importance, such as Kafr Kanna in Galilee and The Spring of the Virgin Mary near Nazareth, which is the place reputed to be located at the site where Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would bear a son. (1)

In the mid-1930's, Karimeh began to offer hand-painted copies of her studio portraits. In a 1941 letter to her cousins, she revealed her desire to prepare a printed album of her photographic work. In 1955, Karimeh died in Nazareth, the city in which copies of her work were first collected. (2)

Ahmed Mrowat, Director of the Nazareth Archives Project, has collected together the original copies of Karimeh Abbud's extensive portfolio. Moreover, more than 400 original prints by Abbud were discovered in 2006 by Boki Boazz, an Israeli antiques collector, in a home in the Qatamon quarter of Jerusalem, abandoned by its owners in 1948. Mrowat has become the owner of a more expansive collection after he purchased the photos from Boazz, many of which were signed by Karimeh Abbud herself. (3) 


1. Tamimi, Iqbal, Palestinian women photojournalist. 2009. [O]. Available: http://en.timeturk.com/palestinian-women-photojournalists-16189-haberi.html

2. Wikipedia, Karimeh Abbud, 2009. [O]. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karimeh_Abbud

3. Mrowat, Ahmad, Karimeh Abbud Early Woman Photographer (1896-1955). 2007. [O]. Available: http://www.jerusalemquarterly.org/details.php?cat=2&id=283

 

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