Today, 13th November, is Karmieh Abbud’s birthday. We are sentimental people: we love birthdays—and the most certainly we admire the work of the “lady-photographer” of Palestine. Therefore, we chose to launch this blog (our love child) today.
Karimeh Abbud (كريمة عبّود) was a pioneer. She is the sort of human one enjoys reading about as a youngling hungry for adventure, hoping to become a grown-up one day that is worthy to be mentioned on the pages of books: an exemplary heroine.
Karimeh Abbud was born in 1893. Raised as the second child of a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem, she was cherished and encouraged to be an eager, curious child. Surrounded by photographers and having her own camera as a teenager, she got seriously involved with the medium by the early 1910s. Next to her studies of Arabic literature at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, she earned money working as a photographer herself. Learning on the job and mentored by an unidentified master, she signed her first picture taken as a professional in 1919. By the 1930s, she was a sought-after photographer working nationally and running her own studios in Nazareth and Haifa. She was a successful businesswoman, hard-working and talented.
Let’s ponder existence for a moment and see what makes a life worthy. I say devotion. And making it as a woman in the world of photography back in the first half of the 1900s takes devotion in quantities we can only imagine. She made it, and she made it her own. She did take pictures of nature, cities, and events as well, undoubtedly, but what truly stands apart is her portraiture. Looking at her photos, we see most of her sitters at ease. They are not simply the usual studio portraits of the era. Many of them have an air of sincerity: they are feel-good imprints of family bonds taken by an insider, despite a stranger creating them at a client’s house.
Homes of other people opened for an unknown person—the niche market where not one of the men of Palestine could take over. Homes, where Abbud could enter without restrictions and indulge in her talents. This familial bubble of continuous professional self-development gave us her mesmerising photographs, showing us real people with real smiles.
And let’s not forget: they also are a window into the past of the Palestinian middle-class under the British Mandate (1923 –1948), before the Nakba. A different perspective on the very people who would be soon part of a catastrophic forced exodus, no matter of their class.
Abbud is a perfect example of exceptional women coming from supportive families with means to back dreams and clear paths for those that would later follow suit. This blog is to celebrate all trailblazers, let them be forgotten or unknown—or forcefully pushed aside. Forget about the canon, it needs a major upgrade. We are here to take you on uncharted waters and ponder away.
Unfortunately, there is no one central place to see her wonderful work. To see the treasure chambers of the internet, please click here.
Mrowat, Ahmad. “Karimeh Abbud Early Woman Photographer (1896-1955).” Jerusalem Quarterly 31 (2007).
Nassar, Issam. “Early Local Photography in Palestine: The Legacy of Karimeh Abbud.” Jerusalem Quarterly 46 (2011).
Restored Pictures. Directed by Mahasen Nasser-Eldin, 2012.
Special thanks to Mahasen Nasser-Eldin, the director of Restored Pictures (2012), a documentary about the life of Karimeh Abbud.
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