|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
29 March - 4 April 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
A Diwan of contemporary life (383)
This week's instalment has a different look. Dr Yunan Labib Rizk* compiles a series of photos, sketches and cartoons of nearly 80-year-old advertisements
Enter illustrated adverts
Pictures do the talking in this unprecedented episode of the Diwan, specifically illustrated advertisements. It has been delightful to observe the increasing use of photography in Al-Ahram, especially since the mid-1920s and we have, therefore, decided to share the pleasures and insights offered by this journalistic development with readers of the 21st century.
Before proceeding to the gallery, however, it is interesting to note that the newspaper had rarely used photographs up until that point and then primarily in the coverage of tragic events, for example to commemorate the death of Al-Ahram's founder, Bishara Taqla, or to illustrate some of the ravages of World War I. That photography was increasingly brought to the service of commerce suggests both a greater realisation of the potential of this art and more affordable costs.
Moreover, if the photographs themselves appear somewhat naive, if not crude, to our modern eye, they, nevertheless, are a vivid expression of a new entrepreneurial spirit. One aspect of this is seen in the promotional campaigns that extended over several editions of the newspaper and which featured the same photograph of the product appearing repeatedly or different photos of the product in question. True, we might consider the accompanying captions less than economic in their wording. But there is no doubt that they were carefully pitched to entice the prospective buyers of the time.
Simultaneously, we should remind ourselves that the manufacturers of the more traditional artefacts and products had no need to advertise. They already had a well established market. Thus, what emerges is a portrait of rising consumer aspirations in response to the lure of new and unfamiliar wares and gadgets.
If these aspirations are modest by the standards of our age, it is still not difficult to imagine what the kerosene stove, for example, would have meant to the families which had been accustomed to coal or the traditional kanoun or clay hearth to cook their meals or, for that matter, the fountain pen and reading glasses to the hordes of civil servants, writers and journalists.
* The author is a professor of history and head of Al-Ahram History Studies Centre.
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