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Sevruguin’s Photos of Ordinary People in Qajar Era

Some photographs by Antoin SevruguinSome photographs by Antoin Sevruguin

Photos of ‘Ordinary People’ in Qajar Iran (1785-1925) are on display at City Photo Museum in Tehran.

Opening today the exhibit features selected works by Antoin Sevruguin, a photographer of Armenian-Georgian origin who lived and worked in Iran, according to Tandis magazine of visual art (Tandismag.com).

The exhibit includes 50 photographs 20x30 cm that show ordinary folks in days of yore, going about their routine work or doing nothing at all.

Antoin Sevruguin (1840-1933) was born into a Russian family at the country’s   embassy in Tehran. His father Vasily Sevruguin was a Russian diplomat. After he died in a horse riding accident and the family was denied state pension, Antoin gave up painting and took up photography to support his family. His brothers Kolia and Emanuel helped him set up a studio in Tehran on Ala al-Dawla Street, now called Ferdowsi Street.

Sevruguin’s skills and reputation as a portrait photographer soon came to the attention of Qajar king Naser al-Din Shah (1831-1896), who appointed him as one of the official court photographers. Courtiers and the elite in Tehran and elsewhere also asked Sevruguin to take their portraits.

The photos featured at the exhibit are mainly from the times Sevruguin traveled throughout Iran to perform an extensive photographic survey of the land. With the help of armed guards and technical assistants, he photographed landscapes, ancient monuments, and the diverse people of the country.

During the five decades of his career, Sevruguin took many pictures across Iran. He developed friendly ties with tribal chieftains many of whom were his clients and guests when they visited Tehran. They also offered him security and protection while he was on potentially dangerous expeditions.

Sevruguin traveled back and forth to Europe, trying to keep in touch with the latest innovations in photography. He won two medals at international photography exhibitions (Brussels, 1897 and Paris, 1900). Naser-al-Din Shah conferred the title of ‘Khan’ upon Sevruguin, who after that honor was known as Antovan Khan in Iran.

Ordinary People will run until January 20. The City Photo Museum is closed on Fridays. It is located at Bahar-Shiraz Park near 7-Tir Square.

The present collection is part of the 2,000 works retrieved and restored from his studio which was looted at the time of 1908 bombing of the parliament ordered by Mohammad Ali Shah, the Qajar ruler from 1907 to 1909. The studio reportedly contained close to 7,000 photographs.

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