Controversy over the Mohammed cartoons and Draw Mohammed Day has given the impression that Islam is entirely against prohibiting the depiction of Prophet Mohammed. Unlike the Sunnis, the Shiites are accustomed to depictions of Mohammed and since the late 1980s, posters of young languid Mohammad with his shoulders bare in an effeminate pose were popular in Iran as a form of curiosity. On a casual walk in Paris, Pierre and Micheline Centlivres, two Swiss anthropologists fascinated by the Islamic art, noticed a poster which seemed to be the inspiration behind the Mohammed posters. (Before they thought it was inspired by a Caravaggio painting).
The original was taken in 1905/6 by two Orientalist photographers, Rudolf Franz Lehnert (1878-1948) and Ernst Landrock (1878-1966). First circulated as a postcard around 1920, this photo was simply named Mohammed after Lehnert’s Egyptian aide who posed in it. However, it is unclear how and when this image, made in Tunisia, arrived to Iran. Some Iranian posters came with a caption that this was a copy of a portrait done by one Bahîrâ, a Christian monk who met in Syria a young man who would later become the future Prophet of Islam. By crediting the image to a Christian and predating it to the time before Mohammed became the Prophet, the manufacturers of the image exonerate themselves from any wrongdoing.
However, it may be an ironic footnote to the story. With Europe yearning for the fantasies and seductions of the Orient, Lehnert and Landrock took many photos of prepubescent and pubescent boys and girls in various stages of being undressed. Suggestive nature of the above photo bags the question whether the postcards were distributed for homoerotic or at least for sensual purposes.
– see Etudes photographiques n°17, nov 2005 for the article for Pierre and Micheline Centlivres.