Picturing the Mellah: Joseph Bouhsira and Moroccan Jewish Photography

By Patricia M. Goldsworthy
Submitted to Session P4823 (Imagery in Jewish Morocco, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries; Colonialism; Maghreb Studies; Mediterranean Studies; Minorities;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In addition to the European photographers who established themselves in Morocco in the early 20th century, Moroccans also set up photography studios in the early colonial era. Many of these early Moroccan photographers were Jewish, and created images depicting historical events and locations of interest to the Jewish community. These photographers complicate the traditional colonizer-colonized divide within studies of colonial photography and demonstrate the diversity of both the communities being represented and the representations themselves. This paper will focus on the photographer Joseph Bouhsira, who began his career as a professional photographer in Fez in the 1910s, and established studios with family members throughout Morocco. Many of Bouhsira’s photographs challenge the “scène et type” genre of colonial photography (which portrayed generic and stereotypical individuals as representative of entire religious or ethnic groups) through his use of specific captions, outdoor shots, and his focus on the diversity of the Jewish community in Morocco.

Since independence, scholarship on Moroccan photography has tended portray the emergence of Moroccan photography as connected to the growing nationalist and independence movement of the country. As a result, Moroccan Jews have been excluded from Moroccan studies of photography that draw a sharp distinction between colonial photography, which is associated with the French, and post-colonial photography, portrayed as Moroccan. This paper seeks to complicate the colonial/post-colonial, French/Moroccan binaries through an analysis of Bouhsira’s works and examine the role of Moroccan Jews in the creation of a Moroccan photography industry.