Professorial Lectures

To save the self: the camera, the painter’s dilemma, and Rumi’s solution

Speaker: Professor Sussan Babaie

In an anxious moment of history, when the camera has already taken root in Iran by early 1850s, the artist and his painterly tools—brushes, watercolours, inks, and paper—have one last chance to ponder what exactly lies ahead. Will they survive the camera, its lens, shutter, silver-plated copper sheet, glass, and the photographer? In an extraordinary reflection on the transition into photography, the painter of a single-sheet album painting keeps himself invisible but pictures the photographer, the sitter, the setting, and the equipment as in a photograph, staged, and fixed in time. Scholarship celebrates that transition, valorising the camera as an instrument of modernity, ‘moving into modernity’, an exhibition called it, and celebrates the implicit defeat of tradition by the newness of the photographic technologies, whilst sometimes lamenting the demise of Persian painting. Europe and the European, farangi to the Persian speaker, are, often uncritically, cast as the harbingers of ‘modernity’. This lecture reads for the artist’s act of subtle resistance, as he or his collaborators, ingeniously summoned Rumi, the great master of mystical Persian poetry, with two seemingly random selections of a couple of lines, framing the contest not as that between tradition and modernity, but as a profoundly philosophical debate between the authentic self and its alter ego, not entirely alien, deserving of a consideration.

Professor Sussan Babaie, Professor in the Arts of Iran and Islam

This event has passed.

13 Feb 2024

18.00 - 20.00

Free, booking essential

Vernon Square Campus, Lecture Theatre 2

This event takes place at our Vernon Square campus (WC1X 9EW).


A Scene of Photography, Mirza Riza Tabrizi, paper and opaque water colours. 32.5 x 21 cm, Iran, 1271/1854–1855. Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi, Inv. No. sxm/ag 2022.