19th Century Greek Photographers in The Ottoman Empire
The newspaper Takvim-i Vekayi dated October 28, 1839 published in Istanbul in Greek, Armenian, Arabic, French and Ottoman (old Turkish) languages featured announcement of photograph in Paris Academy of Sciences. This invention announced all through the world by François Arago on August 19, 1839 found place in the newspaper Takvim-i Vekayi as follows: The talented Frenchman, Daguerre, has reproduced an object through the reflection of the sun’s rays onto a shiny surface. One can understand the importance of this invention when one realises that in this way certain things which should be preserved may be captured.
19th century witnessed changes and innovations all around the world. Day by day new inventions emerged. The Ottoman Empire tried to keep pace with these changes and innovations as far as possible. Left the previous introverted structure, the empire tried to open its doors to innovations. Particularly the problems in bringing the printing press are a good example of the perspective towards innovations in Ottoman history. However, the problems in bringing the printing press were not experienced in photography. It is known that the printing press was initially brought by Jews coming from Spain, and Armenian and Greek communities successively established their own printing houses. Print house to serve to Muslim communities in the Ottoman Empire was established in early 18th century by İbrahim Müteferrika.
Reformist perspective brought to the empire by Sultan Mahmut II facilitated easier adoption of many innovations and innovative thought from Europe. The Rescript of Gülhane positively affected Christian communities living in Ottoman society as well. With the reformist understanding seen particularly in arts and literature, interest in the art of painting increased in the palace and some members of the dynasty began painting. This reformist thought made a big contribution to rapid popularization of photography and its acceptance by Ottoman palace. Furthermore, efforts to prevent re-experiencing the delay in the printing press played an important role in popularization of photography.
However, reformist lifestyle was not accepted by Muslim society as it was by the palace. Therefore, the first Muslim photographers in Ottoman society emerged in early 20th century. Rahmizade Bahaeddin is known as the first Muslim to have a photography studio in 1910. For sure, there were Muslim people taking photographs before this date, but there were no figures to adopt it as a profession. Photography was intensively applied in commercial field by Christian communities within the Ottoman Empire. Armenian and Greek communities in particular established photography studios and made its trade. The reason for Jews and Muslims to keep their distance from photography is that the wrong interpretation of some orders of both religions led the individuals within these communities to avoid arts such as painting, sculpture etc. Although some reforms happened, it took centuries for the society to get rid of this restrictive thought. Even Muslim people seen in some of the photographs of the period were in fact members of Christian communities dressed in Muslim style or men who wore ethnic female clothes. Therefore, let alone Muslim society’s using photography, their appearance in photographs was restricted.
Traveler photographers in 19th century photographed various regions of the world. Photography entered into the Ottoman Empire through European traveler photographers for the first time. Mysterious east increased orientalist interest of Europe, and frequently became subject of photographs. Stereoscopic photograph in particular was an important entertainment tool during 19th century. Many America- and Europe-based stereoscopy firms sent their photographers various parts of the world and created series. The first regions were the Middle East, Egypt, Anatolia and Greece. Istanbul is one of the important cities, as well as Jerusalem.
Although various photographers were mentioned in Istanbul in 19th century, some figures became prominent. Abdullah Fréres, Sebah & Joaillier, Berggen, Basile Kargopoulo and Nikos Andromenos are some of these figures. They established their own studios and left their mark on the period. Known with their close relations with the palace and the dynasty, these photographers gave photography lessons to the members of the dynasty.
Photographs of Vienna exhibition presenting the Ottoman Empire in 1873 were shot by Pascal Sebah. Ottoman dynasty also was interested in photography as closely as to have private lessons. Sultan Abdülhamid II, who with his reign left his mark on 19th century, is one of the notable Ottoman Sultans that were interested in arts. Photography rapidly proceeded in his period and was used officially as well. Sultan Abdülhamid II had photographed all the prisoners to be forgiven to honor his 25th anniversary of succeeding to the throne, and forgave some of the prisoners by looking at these photographs.
Known as Beyoğlu today, The Grande Rue de Péra, as Istanbul’s entertainment, culture – arts center, hosted a similar scene in 19th century. With its completely cosmopolitan structure in 19th century, the area hosted culture, arts, rich lives and embassies of many European countries. Theaters, luxury restaurants and bakeries etc. were concentrated in this area. In 1850s, many photography studios situated in Beyazıt, Istanbul began moving to Pera, with a European look.
Basile Kargopoulo, who was a Greek from Istanbul, opened a studio in
1850 in Grand Rude de Péra. He opened
his studio close to Russian Embassy at number 311 and then, moved it to number
417. Because there was no systematic numbering in Istanbul streets then, many
locations were described according to their distance to embassies and other
important buildings. That is why Kargopoulo added the statement “Rus
Elçiliğinin Yanı” (Next to the Russian Embassy) to its address. Upon the
beginning of Ottoman-Russia war in 1877, Russian Embassy left the city and
Kargopoulo avoided using this statement in its address.
In 1878, he moved to
the address “Tünel Meydanı 4”,
where he is to spend the brightest years of his career.
His use of daguerreotype technique in portrait photography makes him one of the first Ottoman daguerreotype photographers. Kargopoulo played in important role in photographing İstanbul then. With a wide range of costumes in his studio, the photographer shot portraits of notable figures of the period. At the same time, he photographed ordinary people for documentation purposes. Fishermen, butchers, street vendors, syrup sellers and many merchants became subjects of his works. Then, he printed his photographs on carte-de-visite size, and sold them to the tourists visiting Istanbul. These photographs make a significant contribution to document the culture of the period. The albums he prepared in 1884 titled “İstanbul Hatıraları” (Istanbul Memoires) are as if the witnesses of that period. As the compilation of a 20-year archive, these limited edition albums contain 20 to 100 original photographs.
Furthermore, Basile Kargopoulo is one of the figures that gave lessons to the dynasty. He worked as the official photographer of Sultan Abdulmecid and private photographer of Sultan Murad V. He gave photography lessons to Murad V when he was a crown prince. He continued with the lessons during Murad V’s three-month reign.
In the following years, he opened a studio in Edirne (Andrinople) in addition to the one in Istanbul. As the former capital of the Ottoman Empire, Edirme was also a crowded military center. Opened this studio in partnership with E. Foscolo, Kargopoulo rapidly attracted attention of city’s Greek population. Took photographs of the old palace and the city and sold them as postcards, the photographer stated his Istanbul branch in these postcards’ overleaf.
Born in 1826, Kargopoulo continued to run his studio opened in 1850 for 36 years uninterruptedly. After his father’s decease on March 28, 1886, Konstantin Kargopoulo, the son of Basile Kargopoulo could continue with photography only until 1888 due to his lack of experience in the sector.
Istanbul’s another renowned Greek photographer Nikolaos Andriomenos embarked his photography adventure when he was 11, as an apprentice at the studio that Abdullah Brothers took over from Rabach in Beyazıt. After working as an apprentice for a couple of years, he continued his career as a retouching artist. In 1867, Abdullah Brothers transferred the studio to Andriomenos and moved to Pera. Therefore, Andriomenos had his own professional studio at an early age (around 17). After working in Beyazıt for almost 30 years, he opened a branch in Pera. Andriomenos was one of the successful photographers, who managed to enter into the palace. He gave photography lessons to Sultan Vahdeddin, before he succeeded to throne. His 4 photographs were displayed at Paris exhibition in 1903, and he received empery medal from Sultan Abdulhamid II. He took photographs until his death in 1929, and after his decease, his son Tanas Andriomenos continued photography. Changed the studio’s name as “Foto Saray”, Tanas settled in Athens in 1980s.
Another photographer who was trained as an apprentice for Abdullah Brothers is Achilleas Samacı. His studio titled Atelier Apollon until 1925. Like Kargopoulo and Andriomenos, Samacı was also close to the dynasty, and gave photography lessons to the dynasty members. Several renowned dynasty members, actors and writers such as Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil were guests of Apollon, and their portraits were shot.
Dimitri Michailides made his name with his photography works in Edirne. He became an apprentice of Kargopoulo to learn photography, and opened a photography studio in Pera close to the fish market. He published an album titled “Taselya Hatıraları” (Taselya Memoirs) consisting of 30 photographs. Michailides donated his wide collection of photographs to Andrianopolis Greek Association.
Alkibiades Nikolaidis is one of the photographers awarded with Otoman dynasty fine arts medal. Became known with his company titled “Photographie Stamboul”, Nikolaidis was a photographer to be hired for several purposes, according to the advertisements he placed. He provides portrait shooting services at houses and photography shooting services for travels. The most important characteristic of Nikolaidis that made him distinguished is that he opened his archive and library to the use of all researchers. He also provided camera and technical equipment support and gave free photography lessons at his studio.
Neoklis Meraklis opened one of the notable portrait studios of the period in Beyazıt. For a couple of years after his death, his son Cleanthi continued his studio established in 1891.
Jean Xanthopoulo opened his studio titled El – Beder. Although Studio El-Beder, meaning The Full Moon is one of the most popular addresses for portrait photographs, could not manage to be open for long. In 1870s, he settled in İzmir, and opened a new studio titled “El-Beder and Partners”.
Unlike many other portrait photographers, Theodor Servanis opened his studio in Kadıköy, and photographed various intellectuals of the period.
Run by Studio Vaphiadis, Theodor Vaphiadis and Costakis Vaphiadis, the studio continued to operate until 1922. It not only served as a photography studio, but also as a distributor firm bringing many photography brands and art materials to Istanbul. He opened studios at two different locations in Istanbul. Vafiadis described himself as “Oriental Railway Photographer”, and stated that when presenting his studio. Also manufacturing Zincographic plates, Vaphiadis was a renowned figure also in sale of commercial photography materials.
Unfortunately, Istanbul now lacks the cultural variety it had in 19th century. This is due to several reasons, and reshaping of this cultural pattern seem possible neither today nor in the near future. With the advent of photograph in 19th century, a revolution took place in humankind’s imagery. This visual revolution had an impact similar to today’s digital revolution. Many cities all around the world tried to display and present both its architectural structure and cultural pattern through photographs. Like the other cities, Istanbul adopted a similar attitude, and Armenian and Greek photographers as the new inhabitants of Istanbul played the leading part in this scene. Despite the unfortunate destruction of many photographs from that period, some of them are in private collections and museum archives today. Some addresses in Grand Rude de Péra that hosted several photographers keep the spirit of the past alive, and are still present.
- Photography in The Ottoman Empire(1839 - 1919), Engin Ozendes, Iletisim Yayinlari, 1995, Istanbul.
- Photography in Turkey, Engin Ozendes, Pamukbank & The History Foundation, 1999, Istanbul.
- Photography Albums of Dolmabahce Palace, Silent Witness of 150 Years, TBMM Milli Saraylar Yayinlari, 2006, Istanbul.
- Hatira-i Uhuvvet, Portre Fotograflarin Cazibesi: 1846 – 1950, Bahattin Oztuncay, Aygaz, 2005, Istanbul.
- The Photographers of Constantinople / Pioneers, studios and artists from 19th century /1 Text & Photographs, İstanbul, Bahattin Oztuncay, Aygaz, 2003, Istanbul.
- The Photographers of Constantinople / Pioneers, studios and artists from 19th century / 2 The Album, Istanbul, Bahattin Oztuncay, Aygaz, 2003, Istanbul.
- James Robertson, Pioneer of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, Bahattin Oztuncay, Eren Yayincilik, 1992, Istanbul.
- Images D’Empire, Aux Origines de la photographie en Turquie, French Cultural Center Istanbul.
- Vasilaki Kargopulo, Hazret-i Padişahi’nin Serfotografi, Bos A.S., İstanbul, Bahattin Oztuncay, 2000, Istanbul.
- Abdullah Freres, Photographers of Ottoman Palace, Engin Ozendes, YKY, 1998, Istanbul.
- From Sebah & Joaillier to Foto Sabah Orientalism in Photography, Engin Ozendes, YKY, 1999, Istanbul.