Algerian Desert Flowers | Circa 1917


Algeria, Art, Photography

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” ~ Aaron Siskind

The captivating photographs below were featured in a 1917 National Geographic story that documented the exotic beauty of North African people and their religious customs.  Unlike the anthropological approach to other cultures, people and countries that primarily exists today, the captions that reference many of the photos in this series ‘Scenes of the Orient‘ are ethnocentric, paternalistic and colonialist at best, and downright racist at worst. Thankfully, the beauty of these captured moments surpass the limitations of the recorder.

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view one’s culture as superior to others. Biases are most often exposed during interactions with members of other cultures, but may not be perceived as such without open and honest communication.

Self-reference is the tendency of individuals, often unconsciously, to use the standards of one’s own culture to evaluate others.  For example, Americans may perceive more traditional societies to be “backward” and “unmotivated” because they fail to adopt new technologies or social customs, seeking instead to preserve traditional values.

“In the 1960s, a supposedly well read American psychology professor referred to India’s culture as “sick” because, despite severe food shortages, the Hindu religion did not allow cows to be consumed. The psychologist expressed disgust that the cows were allowed to roam free in villages, although it turns out that they provided valuable functions by offering milk and fertilizing fields.” Source: USC Marshall

In our increasingly interconnected world we find fewer opportunities to encounter cultures that have not been adulterated, and photos like these allow us to time travel to the turn of the century when an Algeria Desert Flower graced the world with  an intimate portrait of her beauty.

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About Ayanna Nahmias

Ayanna Nahmias was interviewed on Radio Netherlands Worldwide program titled 'The State We’re In,' about her life in Africa and her determination to transcend her past. She started the Nahmias Cipher Report to provide information to readers about life in emerging economies, and to provide alternative insight into the challenges faced by women and children living in these countries. The blog features stories from around the world to inspire other people to persevere and triumph in the face of great adversity. She blogs about current events in emerging economies, international politics, human rights abuses, women’s rights and child advocacy.

View all posts by Ayanna Nahmias


  1. Survivor News on the Web (May 12-18, 2010) « If She Cry Out - 21/05/2010

    […] Ayanna Nahmias reflects on the good and bad of a 1917 National Geographic story on North Africa. The photography in the story preserved a culture that has since changed in the face of global connectednes. But the commentary on the photos reflects the extreme ethnocentrism that develops when cultures do not meet each other. […]

  2. Tweets that mention Algerian Desert Flowers | Circa 1917 « The Nahmias Cipher Report | Africa | Art | Politics | True Stories -- - 19/05/2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mareecia buffington, Ayanna Nahmias. Ayanna Nahmias said: Algerian Desert Flowers | Circa 1917: […]

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