Camera Time: Personal Photography and Everyday Modernity in Late Colonial Egypt

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Personal photographs can be indispensable for research, writes Kristýna Picková, who worked with Dr Lucie Ryzova to catalogue and preserve nearly 15 years’ worth of material.

Kristyna Pickova
Kristyna Pickova

In my Undergraduate Research Scholarship, I worked with Dr Lucie Ryzova on a project ‘Camera Time: personal photography and everyday modernity in late colonial Egypt’. My task was to help process a large collection of material Dr Ryzova collected over the past 15 years in Cairo, Egypt. This material included photographs, posters, letters as well as albums, magazines and other print ephemera.

Even though personal photographs and various print ephemera are often considered not to be significant enough to be displayed in large museums and preserved in national archives, they can be indispensable for a personal research project. Obtaining material for such research can require a lot of effort and personal involvement as I learned from Dr Ryzova who got most of her documents by personally selecting and bargaining them at the informal old‑paper markets in Cairo.

My task was to sort out the material into categories, scan it and subsequently put into an online database. Due to the amount and nature of the material, this work required a lot of patience and precision. As an art history student, I am hoping to one day work in a gallery or museum where handling works of art may be a daily part of my job, therefore especially in this regard, I found the experience to be extremely useful.

The point of scanning and databasing all the material was not only to preserve it in a digital form but also to prepare it to be displayed at an exhibition Dr Ryzova is planning for next year. Thanks to this I had a chance to meet with a postgraduate student from Birmingham City University specializing in letter prints and also working at this exhibition. In the process, she explained to me various interesting techniques and styles that were used in writing in magazines and on posters we were studying. Even though I am not able to read Arabic, which is the language in which most of the material was published, I am now able to better understand the artistic quality of the material.

The undergraduate research scholarship has been an amazing experience. It has given me the confidence to feel competent to apply for postgraduate study. Working with Dr Ryzova was a pleasure and the responsibility she has given me has helped me feel more capable to work independently. I would definitely recommend the scholarship to any undergraduate students hoping to get a better insight not only into research work but also to learn skills different from the ones they study within their degree.

Kristýna Picková, BA Modern Languages and History of Art

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