The pioneer of early Iranian photography

Antoin Sevruguin was the most important photographer of 19th Century Iran. During his long career, his camera captured all walks of Iranian life, and his photographs provide a unique visual source of the pre World War 1 era. His studio in Tehran produced astonishingly beautiful photographs, his fascination with painting and especially with Rembrandt leading to a unique artistic style.

Sevruguin took photographs of landscapes, monuments and people – nomads, workers, women, even the Royal family. Many of Sevruguin’s surviving glass plates are well-preserved at the Smithsonian but his beautifully detailed work remains largely unknown.


Antoin Sevruguin. Self-Portrait at Naqsh-i-Rustam, ca. 1900.

During the last few years of his life, Sevruguin’s studio was run by his daughter Mary. She was able to recover some of his glass plate negatives, perhaps through her friendship with Moḥammad Rezā Shah (r. 1941-79). Sevruguin died of a kidney infection in his late nineties and was buried in the family tomb in Tehran.

Of the more than 7,000 glass-plate negatives that Sevruguin made, only 696 have survived. These remaining negatives were eventually bequeathed to the American Presbyterian Mission in Tehran. It is not known when or by whom these negatives were donated, but they were purchased for two hundred dollars by the Islamic Archives established by Myron Bement Smith in 1951-52, and were eventually donated to the Smithsonian Institution where they are now housed in the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Archives (Ballerini, pp. 99-117).


Antoin Sevruguin. Dr. Nūr Moḥammad (a Jewish doctor), ca. 1880.

Sevruguin’s father, Vassil de Sevruguin, of Armenian origin, was a scholar of the orient and a Russian diplomat. His mother, known only as Achin Khanoum, was of Georgian extraction. Both were Russian subjects. They had seven children, all born in Tehran. Although the father was an employee of the Russian government, the family was denied a state pension when he died after a riding accident. Achin Khanoum and the children returned to her native Tbilisi, and shortly afterwards to Akoulis, a smaller and more affordable town. Antoin and his brothers Kolia and Emanuel attended school there, while the eldest brother, Ivan, entered the military academy as a cadet. Later, Ivan was exiled to Siberia for his political activities. This, and the denial of the pension, made the family feel resentful towards Russia.

Antoin Sevruguin. Interior in Golestān Palace, ca. 1890.

Antoin Sevruguin. Interior in Golestān Palace, ca. 1890.

Antoin decided to return to Tbilisi and continue his studies in painting and photography. There, he befriended the Russian photographer Dmitri Ivanovich Jermakov (1845-1916). From 1870 Jermakov traveled regularly throughout Persia, producing 127 albums and 24,556 negatives by the time of his last trip in 1915. Sevruguin decided to emulate Jermakov and carry out his own photographic survey of the people, landscape, and architecture of Persia. He persuaded his brothers Kolia and Emanuel, both businessmen in Baku, to accompany him. Around 1870, they traveled with a large caravan to Persia and took pictures in Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Luristan. Finally, they went to Tehran where Sevruguin met and married Louise Gourgenian who came from an old Iranian-Armenian family. They had seven children together (Olga I, Olga II, Mary, Alexander, André, Ivan, and Mikhail).

Literary scents

Too bad, the parfume industry does not have to pay royalties to the writers. This would really improve the financial situation of many authors.

Salman Rushie “Shalimar the Clown”


Franz Kafka “The Metamorphosis”


James Joyce “Ulysses


Jose Lezama Lima “Paradiso”


Karl Marx “Manifest of the Communist Party”
Ray Bradbury “Fahrenheit 451″

Quotes by Carrie

“The universe does not always plays a fair game.  But at least it shows an incredible sense of humor.”   Carrie Bradshaw,  SATC 3/17

A month can be more than just 31 days

Despite giving a very activists impression to the people around me, the last month passed through my fingers like the sand of a oceans dune. After giving lectures at the university on cancer and on stem cells, and after hosting the annual meeting of a joint European research project, after having published 2 new papers in biomedical journals and negotiated with some great scientists at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot about the prospect of a new colaboration, I today realized that theres is no excuse to pass more than a month without a post to my blog.

Other important things happened, that should not be missed:

1.  My good bike has been stolen (but a very nice and enchanting police lady wrote a report on this, giving me some hope that the insurance will refund me for the loss).

2.  As every year in the beginning of the cold season, I continue to go swimming in the chilly Isar channel that I have to pass on my daily ride to work.

3. I managed for the first time to grow wild thyme in a pot on my office window.20151120_151500

4. I had an amazing journey through Israel, about which I will write more in detail soon.

5. Autumn is always a time with lots of good new books in the stores.

    -  Zeruya Shalev  “PAIN”

    -  Salman Rushdie “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights”

    -  Truman Capote “The Early Stories”

    -  Garry Steyngart “Little Failure”

6. Tonight I will go and listen to Amir Hassan Cheheltan, reading at the Munich bookfair.

7.  I recently trapped my 17 year old son, wearing an old leather jacket (approx. 60 years old) that I had been given once by my later uncle, who weared it when was driving his  farm tractor on the cooperative fields.

…. but I know it when I see it.

Today it is pretty easy, for sure, to be branded as an abusive person. If you critizise another peoples political, religious etc. ideas (in particular if you make a few points that are irrefutable, they call you abusive. If you question the hypocrazy of any religion or other dogma (such as gender equality or green political correctness) you suddenly find yourself classified together with mass-murder, darth-vader and sodomist.
I think the term “Abuse” should be restricted to case when one makes negative, derogatory remarks about another persons features for which he/she is not t be blamed (like stature, size, health status etc).
But I like any hard, critical, even unpolite comment about other peoples political, religious, social etc ideas or about their prejudice, paired with self-confident and an astonishing absence of basic knowledge. When a friends couple recently told me that they refuse any vaccination for their kids, and they swear on homeopathy and body-waves, I told them without any hesitation that in my eyes they are “stupid and completely uneducated and that I wish later in life their kids will sue them in the court for neglectance”. Was this an abusive remark ?   I don’t think so. It might have been unpolite, but I had the intention to painfully damage their weired ideas.
If a family sits there, crying about the last words of their son who fell as a marine in Iraq or elsewhere in the world (where he “only” did his job), I would frankly tell them “Yes, I feel with you, I know how bitter it is to raise a stupid son”. Is this abusive ? It is true, he should have informed himself a bit better, but he only saw the glossy pictures and cool guns and uniforms and muscle shirts and hummer cars and Tom_Cruise sun glasses. If he thought that this is all he can get, and nothing he could loose, than he was stupid, and even a priest calling him like this on his grave should not be blamed “abusive”.

With this term “Abuse” it is with many other terms used to judge peoples behaviour:  “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it”. 

O.k., you are definitly right when you say that basic good manners and common courtesy are missing (but who knows, maybe we are just fooled by comparing old Gregory Peck and Doris Day movies with the full spectrum of todays real life ?). When I hear that a presidental candidate (you know whom I have in mind: Donald-the-roof-tile-Trump) makes stupid remarks about his competitors face or her gender, this is what I call abusive. When somebody makes generalizing and derogative remarks about other ethnicities (or even followers of other faiths), this is also what I call abusive. But I don’t know if it should be a matter of legal prohibition. In an argument between ideas or political opinions, however there can not be any limit. Can one abuse an idea, or a faith ?  When I say that the holy bible are fairytales, that Jesus (in case he lived) has not performed any miracles, but that he was an ordenary man, maybe a good guy, as million other good guys in mankind, but for sure not somebody to make a cult of personality around: Would this be called abusive, and me being prosecuted by Paul and 35 million Canadians ?
You see I studied physics and genetics, and if people approach me stating that there was no evolution on earth and that they can communicate with angels on the other side of the moon, I could equally feel abused, since such ideas are totally against my believe in logic and science. But even if these people come with a whole army of followers, and with very well made words, and they outscream me, I still would not call them abusive. It is their right to question my believe, as longf as it remains a battle of arguments. And I don’t see any reason why religion, christianity, islam, hinduism or the church of the flying spaghetti monster should be granted a special status of protection from such a battle of ideas.

Values ? What Values !


Doggy Fizzle Televizzle











See the common pattern after considering the time-shift

Confronted with a huge wave of political refugees from countries shattered with war and terror in the Middle East, many here in the West express their unease with immigration of people who have a different ethnic, cultural and especially religious background. It is in 90% of the European population a fixed idea, that terror by the so-called “Islamic State” or “Al-Kaida” or “Al-Shabab” is a direct result of islamic faith. Being a strict atheist person, I have to reject such ideas. It is a complete ahistoric view to associate islamic faith with a more inhuman attitude than any other religion. If you just go in the history text books back 400 years, you will find that witch-hunting guided by christian priests lead to > 20 000 innocent people burned to death in (the beautiful state of) Bavaria. Simply the longer historical distance should not blur our view, that burning innocent people (blamed as being witches or heretics) to death is not less disgusting and inhuman than decapturing opponents of the IS in Syria or Iraq.

The worst and most influential crime organization, Mafia/Cosa Nostra/NDrageta etc. are devote catholic believers. It might not have reached your attention, that last month the death of one of the Mafias godfathers received a glamorous funeral with catholic priests. Which conclusion you would draw from this ? That by abandoning catholizism you can minimize organized crime ?
Have you ever heard about the support of the Vatican to hide Nazi criminals after WW2, and helping them to escape to South America (so-called “rat path”), where they provided their expertise in torture and killing the opposition to the military dictators ? Does it mean that fighting catholizism is a useful way to prevent political dictatorships ?
Vatican (and its Banco Ambrosiano) was crucial in financing the Italian terror organisation P2, responsible for killing Aldo Moro and placing a bomb that killed >100 people in the Bologna train station. Would you go as far to propose abandoning catholizism in order to fight political terror ?
Religion has to faces: for poor people it is like a drug, like a pain-killer. It might ease their life and prevents them from fighting against the injustice they live in. But at the same time, all religions are prone to got misused by political leaders, criminals, wannabe dictators. Promising them a little share of the power or a little share of the financial gain, it is easy to be granted religious absolution not simply from sins, but from mayor crimes against humanity.

In physics and signaling theory there is a useful method to identify regular pattern in apparently chaotic measurements over time. It is called serial-correlation (or auto-correlation analysis) and it works by overlaying (or logically comparing) a time series of measurements with itself, after applying a continous time shift. If this is done for the last 2000 years of mankinds history, we find that always after +/- thousand years of the formation of a new faith, its representants start to develop a sort of paranoia and want to fight enemies. The christians did this first by starting crusades against muslims and jews in the holy land, and later by punishing and killing thousands of “heretics and witches” in Europe. The Islamic leaders developed the same time of paranoia 700 years later, and now don’t seem to be able to stop the misuse of their faith for extremist violence and religious war.

Mrs. F – saw you after so long time

The video is of a friend of mine who enjoys a calm afternoon in the Iranian desert. I was not there at the same time, but I played the music later on.

Enjoy !

Sofia Street Art

For all of those who missed the geography lesson about South – Eastern Europe in school: Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. Bulgaria has boarders to Serbia and Mazedonia (in the West), to Greece and Turkey (in the South), to Romania (in the North), and it has a nice long coast-line along the Black Sea (in the East).
The Balkan mountains (Stara Planina in Bulgarian) gave the entire peninsula with Romania, Greece, Turkey, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia, Albania and Mazedonia its name. As a proof, here is the one and only railway-station in the world with the simple name “Balkan”. It is on the route from Sofia to Mezdra, but infact it is not a fully functional railway station, but a “Request Stop”, such as the one in Monty Pythons sketch with the old lady at the bus request stop.


Whereas the Balkan mountains are really a piece of great and unspoiled nature (the few Uranium mines are currently not operating), the Bulgarian capital Sofia is a cool, young, relaxed city. It is very European style, and in the center is remarkable triumphirat of the eldest orthodox church, a mosque with a bathing house and a synagogue. Traditionally, Bulgaria hosted a large sephardic community, which always gain protection from the Bulgarian Tzars.
I like the fresh colours in the city, and graffity street artists have contributed a lot to it.

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