Imperial Vogue: Photography And The Fashioning Of Modernity In Twentieth Century Ethiopia

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During the early to mid-twentieth century, the Ethiopian cityscape changed dramatically, and as the urban space changed, so did its citizens' experiences of their own bodies within it. This new space affected life in Ethiopia from numerous perspectives: the modern Ethiopian citizen's understanding of his place within the nation, his interactions with the buildings, streets, and people around him, the employment opportunities presented to him in the city. One of the most visible changes that occurred during this time was the adoption of new styles of dressing the modern body. This study explores the role of photography and clothing in Ethiopia during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I (1930-1974). Through a consideration of the history of photography in Africa, the construction of the fashion system, and the role of the mass media in Ethiopia, this project examines how clothing was a vital aspect of urban Ethiopians' negotiations with modernity. Emperor Haile Selassie, who played a pivotal role in modernizing the nation, likewise positioned himself and his public appearance as a model for the Ethiopian public. In doing so, the emperor and his immediate family functioned as exemplars of the citizens of a modern nation. Photographs of the royal family, which appeared in newspapers and magazines, not only presented Haile Selassie and his children as fashionable subjects, but these images also functioned as guidelines for "properly" negotiating a relationship with modernity. Through a comprehensive study of photographs, newspapers and magazines housed in the archives at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this project brings together important theories from numerous disciplines. It considers the history of photography and the politics of vision as it specifically relates to the African continent and fashion as a system that developed in Ethiopia rather than one that was merely borrowed from the West. In addition to navigating a new way of understanding the role of fashion in a rapidly modernizing non-Western nation, this project simultaneously explores the ways in which photographs, particularly portraits, function as fashionable images within a given social context.
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