Ali Khan Vali

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'Ali Khan Vali the Governor' علی خان والی was a notable 19th-century Iranian photographer. He is best known for his photograph album [1] documenting his career as governor at various places in Azerbaijan (Northwest Persia) between 1879 and 1896.

Biography and career[edit]

He was a member of a distinguished Qajar family, his father having had a long career as diplomat and governor. Ali Khan was born in Tehran in 1845 or 1846. The most important event in his young life occurred when he accompanied his father to St. Petersburg in 1855 for several years. During that time, he studied and learned photography.

In 1277 AH /1860-61 CE, his father left his post, and father and son traveled throughout Europe. In 1278 / 1861-62, his father was posted to the northern (Caspian) province of Gilan as governor. His father was released from that post in 1285 / 1868-69, at a time when Ali Khan was a special attendant at a royal tour of the northern provinces. In 1287 / 1870-71, Ali Khan was one of the courtiers who accompanied Nasser al-Din Shah on a tour of the Shi'ite shrines in Ottoman-governed Iraq, including Najaf, Karbala, and al-Kadhimiyya.

In 1288 / 1871-72, Ali Khan's father was given the post of governor of Fars, while Ali Khan stayed at the court in Tehran, evidently a member of the entourage of the heir to the throne, Muzaffar al-Din. In 1289 / 1872-73, his father died, and his older brother took over as governor of Fars.

In 1296 / 1879, while still in the entourage of Muzaffer al-Din, there were disturbances in Azerbaijan, and Ali Khan received the post of governor of Maragha. He was one of several individuals to receive new posts in Azerbaijan at that time. This was the first of a series of posts he was to hold in that region, including mayor (Hakim) of Tabriz, the principal city. He illustrated his reports to the central administration in Tehran with photographs, which was an innovation encouraged by Nasser al-Din Shah, but readily accommodated by Ali Khan Vali due to his personal interests.

He died in 1902, evidently in Tehran, and was buried at Qum.

Photographic works[edit]

Ali Khan Vali learned camera work in St. Petersburg as a boy, but early photographs have either they not survived or remain undiscovered. The photographs in his well-known album date from the time when Ali Khan was 33 years of age.

Although the earliest photographs in the album are portraits of Nasser al-Din Shah, taken in 1279 /1862-3, the rest of the photographs apparently date from Ali Khan's 1879 posting to Maragha, and the following years. The last date in the text is 1313/1895-96; however, photographs far from the end of the sequence show a coffin for a Christian with the death date of 1897, and the album appears to continues up to 1899 or 1900.

Ali Khan Vali's photograph album [2] documenting his career as governor at various places in Azerbaijan (Northwest Persia) between 1879 and 1896, is of virtually unprecedented quality and character. Ali Khan's album contains 1,412 photographs on 439 pages, commencing with photos of devotional representations of Shi'ite saints, and of Nasser al-Din Shah, the reigning monarch. It then proceeds to document Ali Khan, his family, and all those persons and places he encountered during his career as governor. The photographs are captioned in almost all cases. Moreover, page after page is covered with a continuous narrative of his career, written around the photographs.