Alaa Abu Asad: Photography and the Representation of the Palestinian


Advisor/tutor: Sven Lütticken
Arnhem, June 2018


In 1943, the American Life magazine planned to publish two articles about two families living in Palestine, one Jewish, the other Arab. Life photographer John Phillips, a French American born in Algeria, undertook a daylong photo-shoot of Randa's family at their house in Jerusalem. The photos however, were never published. When the family contacted the magazine asking for the reason, the answer was that the magazine’s editor in New York thought that the photos were not representative enough of a Palestinian family. Randa Khalidi (EL-Fattal) was a Palestinian author, playwright, and political activist, sister to Tarif and Walid Khalidi, two historians from Jerusalem. Walid is an Oxford-educated historian known for his writings on the Palestinian exodus (the Nakba) and for his influential book All that Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. The Khalidi was were forced to leave their home in Jerusalem, flee to Lebanon, and become refugees in Beirut after the 1948 Palestinian Nakba.

This thesis will focus on the problem of representation in photography, particularly in the Palestinian context, and will try to understand representation’s double-adjective situation (representational and representative) and its nature, while raising questions such as: How does representation function within the field of photography and images? How can its image be representative of a multitude of things varying from oppression to nationalism? Does representation resonate within the visual realm of images only, or exceed this field infiltrating other political and social domains? In postcolonial era, who does have the means to produce an image of representation? 

These questions will determine the structure of this thesis, which will trace the image of the Palestinian as it has been represented in various sources of the media. However, the thesis will not seek to answer who is the Palestinian, or give solutions to how a Palestinian should be best represented. It will rather investigate the representational feature of photography as a social event, its products and their derivatives – photographs, images, and their copies. The thesis will also seek to investigate the various uses of photography and its political and ethical values—or in so many cases—its misuse and misunderstanding.