Filler
Photo of Shira

 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Van Leo: Photographer to the Stars

 

 

Collected By Priscilla Adum

 

 

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Introduction

Many of the most well known celebrity photographs in Egypt around 1950 were taken by either Angelo or Levon Boyadjian, a pair of Armenian-Egyptian brothers who were business partners and owners of Studio Angelo in Cairo. The brothers were renowned for their photographs of Omar Sharif, Samia Gamal, Farid al-Atrache, and other celebrities. Eventually, they split up and each one opened his own studio.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The photo to the right shows Samia Gamal with Angelo Boyadjian.

Angelo left Egypt in 1960 and lived out the rest of his days in Paris.

Samia Gamal with Angelo Boyadian

Levon Boyadjian, who became known as Van Leo, remained in Cairo. However, as the years passed, he was forgotten and most of the customers who came to his studio only wanted passport photos. Nobody dreamed that he had once hobnobbed with the stars of the Golden Era.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Van Leo himself, in front of the camera for a change.

Van Leo Himself

Van Leo's legacy was forgotten until he received a visit in the 1990s by a professor from the American University in Cairo. He introduced the professor to a treasure trove of photographs that were worth much more than a thousand words.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Van Leo's grave resides in the Armenian cemetery in Cairo, Egypt.

Van Leo's Grave

 

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Raqs Sharqi Dancers

Click any of the photos on this page to see more detail.

Van Leo loved Hollywood's glamourous style of photography, and was hired by many Egyptian celebrities for photo shoots. He was considered the undisputed master of Egyptian portrait photography.

This photo from the 1940's features an unidentified Egyptian dancer.

Photo by Van Leo

This photo of a dancer with a shamadan (candelabrum) was dated 1954. It didn't identify who the dancer was.

Shamadan Dancer

Houriya Mohamed poses with Emad Hamdi. Houriya Mohamed
This is one of the photos Van Leo took of Samia Gamal. He hand-tinted it to add the color. Samia Gamal
Van Leo also took this photo of Samia. Samia Gamal
This was a 1950's dancer identified only as Farida. Farida
This photo of an unidentified woman was taken at Studio Van Leo. Unidentified Woman
Van Leo took this pensive portrait of Nadia Gamal, the legendary dancer who achieved fame in Lebanon. Nadia Gamal
The photo did not identify these people. Photo by Van Leo

This photo was labeled "unidentified dancer". I took a closer look because she looked strangely familiar to me. I could swear this is Badia Masabni. The jaw line is unmistakable as are her other facial features.

Van Leo took photographs of many (many, many) famous dancers and performers of that time period, as well as a now famous panoramic view of the Casino Opera. It would have been unusual for such a high profile photographer not to count Badia Masabni among his list of clientele.

Unfortunately, many of his photos of dancers and artists are only labeled "unidentified woman" or "unidentified cabaret performer" etc. This dancer really looks like Badia Masabni to me. But I canĀ“t be 100% sure.

Badia and Dancer

Click on this thumbnail to compare this photo of the reclining dancer with a photo that is known to be Badia Masabni.

Photo by Van Leo
Ragaa Youssef. Ragaa Youssef
The dancer in this photo was not identified. Photo by Van Leo
This photo by Van Leo shows an unidentified dancer performing at a wedding. Photo of a Dancer at a Wedding

This photo by Van Leo showcases Lys and Lyn, the Jamal Twins. They were a famed duet act in Egypt during the 1950's.

These women were actually sisters (not twins, though). Their real names were Helena and Berta Alpert, the daughters of Fishel Alpert, and their family was Jewish.

Their father, Fishel Alpert, moved to Alexandria, Egypt from Eastern Europe in the 1920's. There he met his wife Janine, who was also of Eastern European origin. Helena was born in 1930, and Berta in 1932. During World War II, the family moved to Cairo, where they built their careers as a famed duet act.

Jamal Twins
These were probably proofs, used for people to review and place their orders. They too appear to be the Jamal twins. Proofs

 

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Dancers of Other Genres

Click any of the photos on this page to see more detail.

Farida Fahmy performed as a ballroom dancer with her husband Ali Reda before becoming the principal dancer for Reda Troupe. Farida Fahmy
Egyptian-Greek dancer Nelly Mazloum posed for this glamorous photo. Nelly Mazloum
This photo of Sherihan was taken in the 1970's. Van Leo hand-tinted it to add the color. Sherihan
The description on this photo said that Van Leo wanted to capture the flavor of what was going on in Cairo nightclubs during World War 2. Van Leo hand-tinted this photo. World War 2 Homage
Van Leo photographed this line of dancers at one of the nightclubs in Cairo in the 1940's, but the information with the photo doesn't say which nightclub. Chorus Line
Photo by Van Leo of an unknown dancer. Dancer Photo by Van Leo
Some performers in the Cairo nightclubs were Spanish dancers. This photo was dated 1963, and signed with the names Carmina and Antonio. Information is not available on where these dancers worked. Spanish Dancers

 

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Non-Dancers

Click any of the photos on this page to see more detail.

This is a portrait of Farid al-Atrache by Van Leo. Farid al-Atrache
Van Leo also created this portrait of Omar Sharif. Omar Sharif

 

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Landmarks

Click any of the photos on this page to see more detail.

Van Leo was the photographer who took this famous photo of the Casino Opera and Cinema Opera in the 1940's, when Badia Masabni owned it. Casino Opera
Van Leo took this photograph of Tahrir Square in central Cairo. Tahrir Square

 

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Related Articles

 

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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 

Priscilla

 

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