NYU Abu Dhabi unearths 1,500 historic photos from across the Middle East and North Africa

Organised into 12 albums, the collection includes a rare image of the first gusher at Kirkuk's Baba Gurgur oil field from 1927 and a 1902 Algerian travelogue

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NYU Abu Dhabi has published a striking series of 1,500 digitised photographs from across the Middle East and North Africa, dating back to the late 19th century.

Released by the Akkasah, the photography archive at the university’s Al Mawrid Arab Centre for the Study of Art, the photos include snapshots of history, spanning Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey and Iran.

Collections management archivist Jasmine Soliman, who catalogued the series with NYUAD alumna Emily Broad, says the institution owes its diverse archive to its flexible model of building collections.

“In addition to acquiring photographs, we work with individuals and families who want their collections to be digitally archived and shared on akkasah.org, whilst they retain the physical photographs. Over 2,800 of the images currently online are a result of 'digitise and return' collaborations,” says Soliman.

She adds: “The photographs date from the 1890s to the 1960s and feature incredible diversity of regional dress, customs, architecture, landscapes and daily life.”

Among the rarest images is a photo taken of the Baba Gurgur (Father of Fires) drilling site in Kirkuk, Iraq. Captured not long after its discovery, the image depicts the first gusher which erupted on October 1927.

The images are organised into 12 albums – including a naturalist’s travelogue of Algeria in 1902 and another depicting peaceful protests during the Iran Oil Crisis of 1951.

The Akkasah archive aims to compile and preserve the diverse photographic practices and histories across the Middle East and North Africa. Of its more than 35,000 images, about 13,000 are already online, and the archive is open proposals from scholars, students and the general public.

To view the full archive, visit akkasah.org

Updated: July 13, 2023, 7:41 AM