Exhibition: Self Portraits
Van Leo (b Levon Alexander Boyadjian) was an Armenian-Egyptian studio photographer. His family fled as refugees from Armenia to Cairo when he was four. As a teenager, Van Leo developed a fascination for portraiture, glamour and the burgeoning Cairo film industry. He established himself as a professional B&W photographer during World War Two, when Cairo was awash with troops from across the British Empire, bringing a host of stars and entertainers to the city. Van Leo’s makeshift studio saw the creation of thousands of images of movie stars, dancers, writers, generals and musicians. This was Cairo’s flamboyant belle époque, during which Van Leo also created a vast number of self-portraits, using the studio to create staged tableaux of himself variously as prisoner, prince and – reflexively – as photographer. After the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, which ushered in a less glamorous era, he continued to work, reluctantly taking on colour portraiture in the 1970s. In 2000 Van Leo was awarded the Royal Netherlands Prince Claus Award, making him the first photographer ever to obtain the prize.