Orientalist Studies, 1858
In 1858, Fenton made a series of fifty photographs that have come to be known as his Orientalist studies. An increasing European involvement in Near Eastern affairs during the previous decades had prompted a growing fascination with the culture of the region. Artists responded to this heightened interest with paintings of generalized Orientalist themes. Their images tended to be shaped more by imagination than reality, as romantic painters such as Delacroix envisioned a world characterized by visual splendor, sensuality, and exotic ritual. Fenton’s own Orientalist works adopted much of the same pictorial vocabulary.
To make these photographs, Fenton transformed his studio in north London into an exotic environment where musicians wearing loose- fitting garments lounged on low divans with ample pillows. The languid atmosphere of the scenes, coupled with the relaxed postures and intimate behavior of his models—unthinkable in Victorian sitting rooms—reveal the nineteenth-century misconception of the Near East as a place free from inhibitions and responsibilities.