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Photography In The Ottoman Empire

During the nineteenth century, when the industrial revolution in Europe was enjoying its heyday, the Ottoman Empire came increasingly under the gravitational pull of Europe in the spheres of politics, culture, art, military science and commerce. Among the elite of Turkish society tastes changed rapidly to accommodate western art, architecture and music alongside traditional Turkish forms. 

Sultan Mahmud II (r.1808-1839) was the first Turkish monarch to follow the example of his western counterparts and have his portraits hung in government offices and presented as gifts. Following the dissolution of the janissaries in 1826 a miniature portrait of the sultan in military uniform was painted. It measured 6.5 by 7.5 cm, and his face was framed by a design of yellow and pink roses in relief and diamond studded blue flowers. Known as Tasvir-i Hümayun, copies of this portrait were worn around the neck on chains or hung on the walls of government offices.

Photographie Sébah & Joaillier Greek, Muslim And Armenian Clerics From Konya / Pascal Sébah, 1873

Religious circles were disturbed by this unorthodoxy, and Mahmud responded by presenting one of these Tasvir-i Hümayun to Şeyhülislam Abdülvahab Efendi in 1832. Further portraits were ceremoniously hung in the Military College in 1835 and in the Rami and  Selimiye Barracks in 1836. In 1838 he sent another portrait to çerkez Hafız Mehmed Pasha, commander of the Ottoman forces, as a gesture of support in the coming battle against the forces of the rebel governor of Egypt, Kavalalı Mehmed Ali Pasha.

The discovery of photography was announced in Turkey on 28 October 1839 in Takvim-i Vekayi, a newspaper published in Turkish, Arabic and French.

In 1840 the first Turkish post office opened in the courtyard of Yenicami Mosque in İstanbul, and on 25 August 1841 another newspaper, Ceride-i Havadis, which printed foreign news items translated by an Englishman named William Churchill, mentioned that Daguerre's camera had become commercially available.

In 1839 Gaspard-Pierre-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière (1798-1865) took photographs of Athens, Egypt, Palestine, Syrie and Turkey.

In October 1839, the French artist Horace Vernet (1789-1863), accompanied by his nephew Charles Marie Bouton (1781-1853) and the Daguerreotypist Frédéric Auguste Antoine Goupil-Fesquet (1817-1878), set sail from the port of Marseille photographic expedition. Their journey took them to Alexandria, Cairo, Sina, Palestine, Syria, Tyre, Saidon, Deir El Kamar, Damascus, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Beirut and Baalbeck, finally reaching the Aegean port of Izmir on 9 and İstanbul on 16 February 1840. 

Horace Vernet Dressed In Oriental Costume / After a photograph by Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet, 1839 Article In Ceride-i Havadis Newspaper / A report on Mr. Kompa’s work in Istanbul in issue no. 95, 17 July 1842 (8 Cemazıyelahır 1258)

Since the necessary printing techniques had not yet been developed it was impossible to publish these photographs in books and newspapers. Instead artists copied the photographs for reproduction, adding half-tones and livening them up with the figures of people and animals which were necessarily absent from the scene due to the long exposure period. The first book illustrated by engravings based on photographs was Excursions Daguerriennes: Vues et Monuments Les Plus Remarquables du Globe (1840-1844) published by N.P.Lerebours in Paris. These were scenes photographed in various parts of Europe and the Middle East.

Ceride-i Havadis reported in issue 95 dated 17 July 1842 (8 Cemazıyelahır 1258) the arrival of the French photographer Kompa in Beyoğlu in 1842.

The French writer Maxime du Camp (1822-1894) published photographs he had taken in Izmir, Ephesus and Istanbul in 1843 in Souvenirs et Paysages d'Orient: Smyrne, Ephese, Magnesie, Constantinople, Scio printed in Paris in 1848.

Joseph Philbert Girault de Prangey (1804-1892), an expert on Islamic architecture, took over one thousand Daguerreotypes in the Near East in the 1842-1844and illustrations based on these were published in Monuments Arabes d'Egypte de Syrie et d'Asie-Mineure Dessines et Mesures de 1842 a 1845 published in Paris in 1846.

Pioneer of photographic journalism in the Ottoman Empire was James Robertson (1813-1888), who was hired as chief designer at the Ottoman Mint in 1840 and took photographs of the Crimean War in 1855.

The Italian Carlo Naya (1816-1882) was one of the first photographers to settle in Péra. He placed notices with local newspapers advertising his studio, which opened in 1845 opposite the Russian Embassy on the Grand’ rue de Péra. He worked in İstanbul until 1857.

Photographic studios began to make their appearance in Turkey around this time, and portraiture became an increasingly important part of their work. Those early portraits reflected the style of contemporary painting. Similarly, photographs of landscapes and urban scenes echoed the art of engraving in subject matter and composition.

An Ottoman Greek, Basile (Vasili) Kargopoulo (1826-1886), opened his photographic studio in Pera in 1850. He is best remembered for his panoramas and street scenes of Istanbul, which provide a valuable documentary record of the city in the mid-nineteenth century. Kargopoulo also took portraits, and provided a large wardrobe of smart garments for the impecunious young men who made up the majority of his clientele.

Kızkulesi And Caique / Pascal Sébah, 1870 Turkish Coffee House / Sébah & Joaillier, ca. 1890

The earliest known example of combination printing in the world, a photograph of Pera based on two negatives, was the work of the Irishman John Shaw Smith (1811-1873) in 1852.

Ernest de Caranza arrived in İstanbul in 1852 and took many Calotypes during his extensive travels through Anatolia. He compiled fifty-five of these into an album which he presented to Sultan Abdülmecid (r.1839-1861), who rewarded him with the title of imperial photographer.

In 1852 Alfred Nicolas Normand (1822-1909) took a series of Calotypes measuring 16 x 21 cm of Istanbul.

A Hungarian refugee, Raif Efendi, who took refuge in the Ottoman Empire in 1848, opened a studio in the district of Çemberlitaş in 1854.

The German chemist, Rabach, opened a studio in 1856.

Pascal Sébah's studio, El Chark, opened in 1857, and it was Sébah who took all the photographs for the album of Ottoman costume published for the Vienna Exposition in 1873. After his death, his son Joannes (Jean) Sébah (1872-1947) went into partnership with Policarpe Joaillier in 1888, after which the studio was renamed Sébah&Joaillier.

When Kevork (1839-1918) returned from Venice in 1858, he and his brothers Viçen (1820-1902) and Hovsep (1830-1908) took over the studio started by Rabach. Abdullahs took photographs which displayed an animation and clarity unequalled by their colleagues. From now on the fame of the Abdullah Frères studio soared daily. "Before a year was out we had raised the art of photography to its apogee," declared Kevork.

Abdülaziz invited them to his hunting lodge in Izmit to take his portrait in 1863.  The result was excellent, and the sultan declared, "My countenance and true likeness is as in the photograph taken by the Abdullah brothers. I command that henceforth only the photographs taken by them shall be recognised as official photographs to be distributed throughout the land." Subsequently the sultan rewarded them with the title of Artists to His Imperial Majesty.

At the request of Tevfik Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, who wished to introduce the art of photography in his own territories, Kevork and Hovsep Abdullah travelled to Egypt in 1886 to open a new studio. 

Sultan Abdülaziz / Abdullah Frères, 1869 A street in Üsküdar / Abdullah Frères, ca.1890

The Abdullah brothers, who had received so many awards, medals and letters expressing admiration of their work, had both unusual talent and the artistic sensibility which carried them to the heights of their profession.

Photographs of İzmir and Aegean taken by Jacob August Lorent (1813-1884) in 1859.

Francis Frith (1822-1898) photographed İzmir and its environs in the 1860s, and published an album of thirty-seven photographs with a frontispiece of himself dressed in Turkish costume.

The many civilisations which had risen and fallen in Asia Minor left ancient ruins in unequalled abundance and variety. Photography became a widely used tool for documenting these sites.

In 1861 George Perrot and the architect Edmond Guillaume organised an archaeological tour of Anatolia, and published their findings in a book entitled Exploration Archeologique de la Galatie et de Bithynie in Paris in 1862. Illustrated by photographs taken by Jules Delbet, this book served as a guide to the archaeologists who undertook the first excavations here.

A. de Moustier, a relative of Marquis de Moustier (1817-1869), French ambassador to the Ottoman capital, photographed Istanbul and Turkey's northwest region from the Marmara Sea to the northern Aegean in 1862. Using the photolithography technique, engravings were produced from Moustier's negatives and used to illustrate his fifteen-volume Le Tour de Monde in 1864.

Francis Bedford (1816-1894) was a member of the entourage of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, during his tour of Turkey and the Middle East in 1862. His photographs obtained by the wet collodion process were published by Day & Son in London.

Nikolai Andreomenos (1850-1929) opened a studio in Beyazıt in 1867 where he worked for nearly thirty years before opening a branch in Pera. Andreomenos was presented with two medals by Sultan Abdulhamid II.

When the Swedish photographer Guillaume Berggren (1835-1920) visited Istanbul he fell in love with this mysterious oriental city at first sight, and made up his mind to stay. He opened a studio in Pera in the early 1870s. His photographs of İstanbul exhibit a masterful technique and composition.

The Gülmez Brothers of Pera specialised in portraits and pastoral scenes around Istanbul in 1870s.

Schoolboy / Nicolai Andriomenos, ca. 1895 Turkish Cemetery In Eyüp / Iranian, ca.1900

Felix Bonfils (1831-1885) and his son Adrien Bonfils (1861-1929) opened a photographic studio in Beirut and took photographs of Istanbul and the Anatolian peninsula in 1870.

In 1880s one of the best known Pera photographers was Bogos Tarkulyan (?-1940), who was also a portrait painter. The owner of Foto Phébus, Tarkulyan's own name was gradually supplanted by that of his studio and he was widely referred to as “Febüs Efendi”.

Mihran İranyan’s successful compositions and technical excellence are a good reason for us to list him among unforgettable photographers.

Lessons in perspective drawing were introduced into the curriculum of the Imperial School of Engineering in the late eighteenth century, and photography lessons in the nineteenth century. The latter were taught by military artists who had graduated from this school. Turkish photographers who studied at this and other military schools in the nineteenth century included Captain Hüsnü (1844-1896), Bahriyeli Ali Sami, Servili Ahmed Emin (1845-1892), Ali Rıza Pasha (1850-1907), and Ali Sami Aközer (1866-1936). Abdülhamid II (r.1876-1909) entrusted these photographers with the task of making a photographic record of events throughout the empire.

Foremost among the businessmen who supplied all photographers in the empire with imported equipment and materials were Onnik Diraduryan, the Caracache Brothers, and G.Paboudjian, owner of Nadir Photographic Studio.