Photographing Saudi Women
: A Collaborative Exploration Through Images and Narratives

  • Lujain Mirza

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This research explores the visual representation of Saudi women living in Saudi Arabia.
    Due to the conservative nature of Saudi society this continues to be a controversial issue,
    both in Saudi Arabia and in the West. This project is about using photography as a
    medium and a critical tool to examine the representation of Saudi women, and reframe
    their representation in a collaborative process; understanding the place of photography in
    Saudi women’s experience, self-perception, and their response to its creative potential as
    a tool of self-presentation; and revealing the full potential of creative collaborative
    photography in research and the complexity and multiplicity of Saudi women’s diverse
    The subjects of the research were ten Saudi women, ranging in age from 20 to 61, all
    educated and located in the capital Riyadh at the time of this research. The research
    employed a qualitative methodology using photography as part of a collaborative process.
    Photo-elicitation interviews were used as the principal means of data collection, and
    combined with a creative photographic collaboration. Analysing the photographs derived
    from the interviews, I explored them in terms of five major themes: family albums, selfrepresentation,
    identity, restrictions, and public and private spheres. This analysis and the
    rapport established with participants provided the ground for the production of a set of
    individual photographic portraits.
    The contribution of this research is that it has brought a Saudi woman’s perspective to the
    representation of Saudi women through photography, in the context of an emerging body
    of research and photographic practices from Middle Eastern countries. Two major
    elements exist within this research project: the creative photographic collaboration as
    well as the qualitative photo-elicitation. The photographic collaboration approach opened
    the research process and allowed the creative, deep reflective outcomes to be embraced,
    while the methodological framework developed for this collaborative project extended
    the use of photo-elicitation and qualitative methods of collecting data through
    photographs and narratives to a Saudi context. This visual research methodology contributes to the literature on photographic representations of Saudi women, by making
    Saudi women visible and providing them with a voice, allowing them to access their own
    photographic narratives. In doing so it provides new insights into Saudi culture and
    This research presents a unique contribution through listening to the voices of Saudi
    women living in Saudi Arabia, gathering and analysing their perspectives through
    photographic narratives, looking at the ways they negotiate and relate to the photographs,
    and enabling them to present themselves through their own personal portraits. Working
    with a group whose use of photography has previously been limited as a result of cultural
    expectations and restrictions, extended the application of the photographic methods by
    demonstrating the empowering qualities of the medium. This research has demonstrated
    the value of photography to feminist debates on identity, as a tool of investigation into
    women’s lives and experiences, specifically as it relates to the experience of Saudi
    women. It generated new representations and new practices of photography that have the
    potential to not only provide insights into the lives of Saudi women but to reveal new
    ways of being.
    Date of AwardMay 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorDarren Newbury (Supervisor)

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