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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