Karimeh Abbud (1896-1955), also known as the Lady Photographer, was the first female Palestinian professional photographer living and working in Lebanon and Palestine in the first half of the twentieth century. According to , Abbud may have been the first female professional photographer in the entire Arab world.
Like Lydia Akkaoui, who worked on Palestinan Radio before the 1948 Nakba and Dr . Shafiqah Abbud, who worked as a gynecologist in the government hospital in Acre during the 1920s, Abbud was a pioneer at a time when public life in the region was reserved for men. Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women – Global Women’s Issues and Knowledge has recognized Abbud’s ground-breaking work:
Only a handful of Middle Eastern women worked as photographers before the middle of the twentieth century and they usually were part of a family enterprise. Sarah Graham-Brown (1998) reports that a ‘Miss Karimeh Abbud’ is named as the photographer of a postcard view of Nazareth dating before World War II.
Most of what is known about Karimeh Abbud comes from an in the , which introduced Abbud and her work to a wider audience for the first time, written by Ahmed Mrowat, Director of the Nazareth Archive Project.
Abbud was born in Nazareth, where her family was very well known and respected. Her father As’ad Abbud was a protestant minister who served congregations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Haifa and Nazareth. When Abbud was a little girl, her father’s constant travel to Palestinian cities and villages allowed her to see the diverse landscape of her homeland first-hand. Her curiosity was constant. She wanted to see more, and to capture the beauty she encountered.
When Karimeh was a teenager, the family settled in Bethlehem. It was there in 1913 that Abbud first began to take an interest in photography, after receiving a camera from her father for her 17th birthday. As Mrowat :
Working from home in the early 1920s, Karimeh began to earn money by taking pictures of women and children, and then by taking wedding and ceremonial pictures. Her first signed picture (at least that I was able to find) is dated October 1919. By the early 1930s, Karimeh became a professional photographer.
Abbud studied at the American University of Beirut, where she obtained a degree in Arabic literature. Her close cousins, Shafiqah and Mateel Abbud studied at the same university. In 1926, Mateel became one of the first female Palestinian teachers at the government school in Nazareth.
After obtaining her degree, Karimeh continued with her photography. It is not known when she opened her own studio, but she appears to have risen in prominence in her hometown of Nazareth after the local photographer Fadil Saba moved to Haifa, leaving Karimeh as the leading photographer in town.
Abbud’s approach made her work stand out. As Issam Nassar it:
While portrait photographers in Palestine captured the images of their subjects in their studios where carefully prepared settings were at hand, Abbud was taking portraits at her clients’ homes. Using makeshift backgrounds and settings, her subjects stood at ease in front of her camera.
The work Abbud produced in this period was stamped in Arabic and English with the words: “Karimeh Abbud – Lady Photographer – كريمةعبود: مصورةشمس”. In the mid-1930s, Abbud began offering hand-painted copies of studio photographs, of which few samples have survived.