The Gift of the Abdülhamid II Albums: The Consequences of Photographic Circulation
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In 1893 and 1894, the Ottoman sultan Abdülhamid II sent two almost identical album sets — one to the United States and the other to the United Kingdom — as a part of an ongoing gift exchange. His aim was to circulate photographic images of modern imperial life to an Anglo-American public. However, this goal was never achieved. The fifty-one volumes in each set were not disseminated; thus, the court’s attempt to broadcast Ottoman modernization and industrial progress failed. In the Washington D.C., at the Library of Congress, these albums were buried in the Orientalia Division and not transferred to the Prints and Photographs Division until in 1945. In London, they followed a similar course, languishing idle and uncatalogued in a British Museum vault before being transferred to the British Library, in 1973. That this collection of Ottoman photographs remained unseen by a wide sector of the Anglo-American public and was rediscovered only decades after their acquisition remains central to their importance, raising questions about the consequence of photographic circulation and limitation of political relationships. What happens when photographs circulate but are not viewed? How is photographic migration interrupted, suspended, and redirected, and what are the effects of this?
Although it might seem an obvious line of inquiry in our globalized world, this story of circumscription is entirely new to discussions about the Hamidian material. By acknowledging that these volumes were intended to overwhelm their American and British audiences but actually underwhelmed them, this paper presents an alternative view of the Abdülhamid II album collection and confronts the popular belief that these photographs traveled as an “imperial self-portrait.” That some of the photographs in the albums were printed in Ottoman illustrated journals and seen by the Ottoman public further complicates a linear narrative of photographic passage, revealing the many (and international) platforms through which photographs were consumed. This paper testifies to the currency of photographs in diverse visual economies at the turn of the century and their mobility in multiple transnational networks. It embraces the intercultural nature of the Ottoman Empire, the instability of nineteenth-century politics and variability in the exchange of visual forms across imperial, national and institutional borders. Here, I recognize photographic albums as three-dimensional, tactile objects and bearers of sociocultural experience that activate multiple layers of relationship between Ottoman and Euro-American communities. Still resonant today, they link the past and present, histories that are both visible and invisible, and this invisibility becomes a constitutive component in how we understand these photographs.
The scholarly discussion around the Hamidian collection has so far examined the images exclusively within the context of their supposed international circulation as an “imperial self-portrait.” Although not the product of a single author, this characterization comes from Carney E. S. Gavin’s pioneering text of 1989. He writes: “As a self-portrait of a reign, of an empire, and a Sultan’s hopes, these albums were sent forth as messengers into the future — with our own impressionability in mind, as much as into their contemporary space for distant eyes.” It is easy to imagine the fifty-one albums as a self-portrait of a self-involved sultan. In this romantic (and very commonly art historical) vision, the albums hold symbolic value for Abdülhamid II; he did not disseminate his own portrait, so the albums become a proxy for his sultanic likeness. According to Gavin, the albums were not meant as a representative portrait, but this idea has been overplayed in scholarship of late. Critical studies have yet to evaluate these photographic volumes as historical, material, and international objects shaped equally by a diplomatic vision, political milieu, and institutional complacency.
Unlike like his Persian counterpart, Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848–96), who actively photographed himself and those in his own harem, Abdülhamid II was not the sole agent in the creation and dissemination of the albums. He excluded his own image from these gifts and did not travel with them to the United States or Britain. Rather, the Hamidian albums must be understood as products of collective authorship and revelations of a vibrant court culture that engaged many people on many levels. The formalities of diplomatic exchange and practices of imperial decorum characterize this project as a bureaucratic survey (even if it was inspired, in part, by the 1880 American census, as I will discuss later in this article). As such, the photographs operate as internationally legible currency, moving from one archive to another where they are rendered comparable to similar objects, offering a correspondence among cultures, customs, governments, and technologies. My argument, therefore, reframes the legibility of photography within the context of the archive — an informational and intellectual resource that, itself, controls the production of (proto-)national knowledge to which these photographs contribute. More specifically, the albums’ migration implicates Otto-Turkish, British, and American institutions as additional authors in the creation of this imagery as it exists in both the historical and present-day imaginary, suggesting a human relationship that extends outside the frame of the photograph and beyond the door of the archive.
Material Structure of Albums
Possibly the most ambitious Ottoman photographic endeavor, the Abdülhamid II albums were created in the wake of the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition, in Chicago, as diplomatic gifts for the United States and Britain in 1893 and 1894, respectively. Now held in the collections at the Library of Congress and the British Library, these fifty-one albums present visions of Ottoman industrial and cultural progress as embryonic embodiments of archive. Through these 1,819 photographs as well as the 36,535 images amassed by Abdülhamid II in Istanbul during his thirty-three-year reign, the court used photographic technology to document modernization efforts in all corners of the empire. The camera’s eye was by extension the eye of the court. This courtly vision was, thus, a collective vision, one in which photographic production was an entangled collaboration among a community of creators, intermediaries, and patrons. The appearance and the subject matter of the Abdülhamid II albums, therefore, reflects the concerns of many individuals — the sultan and the grand vizier Ahmed Cevat Paşa, for example — and Ottoman photographic studios as well as the archives in which the images now live.
All fifty-one photographic books in Abdülhamid II’s bequest are bound in black, red, and green leather with a gold crescent and stars embossed in each of the four corners. The sultan’s crest — a scale and script — marks the center of each album cover. For the set at the British Library, the stamped text reads “Gift made by H. I. M. the Sultan Abdul-Hamid II. To the library of the British Museum, London, 1893.” All but six albums are compiled of gold-toned albumen prints. The sheer size and weight of the albums (some volumes require more than one art handler during transport) mimic the size and weight of the empire: vast, massive, and substantial. Printed or hand-drawn borders frame each photographic plate; captions in both Ottoman script and French (eighty-one captions are in English) offer regional or social context. The predominant use of French (and not English) in gifts designed for an English-speaking audience demonstrates their diplomatic currency and fluency in all international exchanges. Indeed, French was the lingua franca of nineteenth-century politics, and the Ottoman aristocracy spoke it with fluency and acumen. In this way, the incorporation of French here is an assertion of a cosmopolitan Ottoman identity that was meant to resonate with members of the American and British elite.
Six photographic firms contributed to the Abdülhamid II album collection. Three commercial practices are represented: Abdullah Frères (thirty-five albums; 1,291 photographs); Phébus studio (two albums; fifty-two photographs); and Sébah & Joaillier (two albums; sixty photographs). Ali Riza, a staff colonel and photographer for the Ministry of War, made two albums with sixty photographs. The Imperial School of Engineering, which housed its own photography studio, contributed one album with fifty-five photographs. There is one photograph by the Ottoman Greek photographer K. E. Cacoulis. One album, which remains unidentified, consists of two hundred and eighty-six photographs by an unknown artist. With this collective authorship comes inconsistency in both the technological and aesthetic approach to image making, and yet the photographs synchronously convey a stylized and unified mode of representation through their very sober and didactic formal characteristics. Still, the physical quality of the photographs varies depending on the size of the album, the photographer, and particular preservation techniques.
All of the images are divided into the four themes of Abdülhamid II’s pictorial anthology: Ottoman landscape views; Byzantine and Turkish antiquities; military and industrial developments; and educational reform. The topographical panoramas include landscape views and documentation of historic monuments. Many of these albums celebrate Istanbul and its environs, though other Ottoman centers, such as Bursa and Iznik, are also featured. Illustrations of the capital echo the ever-popular cityscapes sold in Istanbul photographic studios and often purchased by foreign tourists that present Istanbul as a mythic and timeless panorama. These picturesque scenes were not only appropriated for propaganda projects by the palace, but they were also assimilated into foreign travelogues and translated into picture postcards by both Ottoman and non-Ottoman studios. As panoramic prospects, these landscape photographs conflate pictorial conventions with imaginative scenes, and the collective view of the modern Ottoman state was processed through an inclusive and composite sense of image.
Scenic views of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara provide topographical context by familiarizing the viewer with the Stambouline skyline as well as staging coded messages of the imperial modernization project. One such photograph, titled “Vue de Bosphore et de Roumeli-Hissar,” focuses on a man with his hat in hand, standing in the middle of an overgrown meadow on the banks of the Bosphorus. A tree rises overhead, shading him from the stark sunlight. Next to a nineteenth-century yalı, the Rumeli Hisarı — a fortress built in 1451–52 by Mehmed II prior to the Ottoman occupation of Constantinople — looms behind him. A web of electrical lines cuts through the central picture plane from the frame’s upper-left corner to a pole next to the tree, paralleling the descending silhouette of the Rumeli Hisarı as it slopes toward the water. Here, the newest technology complements one of the oldest Ottoman structures, the two coexisting harmoniously despite the sultan’s anxiety about such mechanical industrialization.
Concerned with monumental description, the albums render architectural remains as products of the Ottoman imperial enterprise. Photographs of ancient ruins embody what Derek Gregory calls a “constructed visibility” that is to be viewed and understood by the intended Euro-American audience. These photographs build on the related practices of archaeological investigation and photographic inquiry that were pursued by Ottomans such as Osman Hamdi and Pascal Sébah. Album four, for example, interweaves forty photographs of the Ottoman and Byzantine land walls in Constantinople, monuments, and relics into an interconnected narrative. The photographic sequence commences with photographs of the Galata neighborhood from the water (figure 2). Aerial views of Istanbul from the medieval Galata tower as well as photographs of the nine-story structure punctuate the album’s archaeological order. Built by the Genoese community in 1348 to replace a Byzantine structure that controlled the entrance to the Golden Horn, the Galata tower dominates the first four photographs in this volume. These depictions of the tower are followed by earlier monuments such as the Valens Aqueduct, completed in 368 CE, and the ancient city walls built just decades earlier (figure 3). Interwoven are photographs of the fifteenth-century Yedikule Fortress, a citadel built by Sultan Mehmed II in 1458 following his conquest of Constantinople, in 1451–52. The serial arrangement of photographs, thus, converts an imaginary space — Medieval Constantinople — into an actual place. In so doing, the albums profess the imperial tradition of cultural appropriation by adopting ancient Roman and Byzantine sites and monuments and pairing them with a narrative of modern innovation that legitimated this land as Ottoman. This is similarly true in the sixteen photographs of the Hagia Sophia in the albums at the Library of Congress. Under Abdülhamid II, Islam was a point of unification for the empire in which mosques, especially those with a longitudinal history like the Hagia Sophia, rivaled similar European religious structures such as St. Peter’s. These images transform this multifaceted monument into multiple photographic documents, thus monumentalizing the Ottoman dynastic purchase on a complex and historic building site.
Photographs of palace grounds, interiors, and decoration populate related volumes in both London and Washington, D.C. Structures in the Topkapı and the Yıldız complexes are documented extensively. Their inclusion here highlights Ottoman architectural commisions as the headquarters of dynastic power. Album six provides a virtual tour of the imperial treasury at the Topkapı. Here, internal scenes follow external ones, materializing a physical journey that moves page-by-page into the heart of the court’s most intimate chambers. Few photographs depict any sort of elite or civic populace. In other words, the faces of the court that feature so prominently in various other forms of photographic display are absent here.
Education reform, as depicted in fifteen of the albums, constituted a significant part of the imperial modernization narrative. Comprising 489 photographs, these portraits present a spectrum of students and their schools, ranging from public and private academies to military institutions and specialized establishments for the blind, orphans, and ethnic minorities. During the rule of Abdülhamid II, the Ottoman state built ten thousand schools, which aimed to combine modern education policy with Ottoman-Islamic values. Between 1867 and 1895, the number of school buildings and students more than doubled (though the highest population of educated individuals were Christian). Thus, education, like photography, was an instrument of imperial control and communication. Both played primary roles in the evolution of empire and witnessed the political instability and ambiguity of the Ottoman state at the end of the nineteenth century.
The photographs focused on military achievement engage with a range of subject matter, such as architectural renderings, group portraits, and “work” scenes. One album with naval subjects, for example, contains a medley of marine settings, made up of arsenal buildings, merchant marine students, and a plethora of boats in all shapes and sizes. Interspersed with these seascapes are portraits of important army and naval commanders. One image of the “Commondant de la marine imperial” combines the picturesque with the conventional military portrait. Shown in full dress with medals, a fez, and sword, the commander poses before a highly stylized backdrop, which is painted to resemble a sandy beach, blossoming faux sea foliage, and a rusty anchor that secures the foreground. It stands as a reminder of the actual sea, which is shown in the images prior and symbolizes imperial ambitions with its limitless horizon and access to foreign shores.
As a surrogate for a direct encounter with the sea, this simulated seascape mediates the studio space with the Ottoman shoreline, fashioning an imaginary scene where the viewer looks “through” one representation of the military and onto another. With its interweaving of real and artificial seascapes, this album reveals how the physical environment was understood as a kind of mutable body, a topography that personified and performed a modern Ottoman character. The photographs here dissolve boundaries between conventional notions of portraiture and landscape. They naturalize Istanbul’s waterways as a means of territorial and imperial rationalization. In this way, the album operates as a status symbol for nineteenth-century photographic practice, communicating as much about contemporary sociopolitical attitudes as about the standardizations of technological image-making in the Ottoman world.
The palace applied its interest in industry directly to photographic technology. Not only do the Hamidian albums form parts of a cohesive ecosystem, but the individual images are crafted with attention to the medium’s synthetic qualities as well. Through manipulation techniques such as fragmenting, cutting, and re-photographing photographs, the prints splice together an artificial yet utopian vision of the late imperial state. Like the experimental albums of Victorian photo-collage, which are paradigmatic of the nineteenth-century appreciation for juxtaposition and eclecticism, the Hamidian albums demonstrate a distinctly modern application of the medium.
A single albumen print illustrates the panoramic vision of L’école militaire préparatoire 1sttSection à Alep. This view comprises two individual photographs that fit together to form a larger panel. A seam separating the two original photographs displays this montage technique. What first appears as an unbroken panorama emerges as a composite scene. Regardless of the fact that both sides of the image are smoothly aligned, the exterior gate and school buildings unabashedly illustrate the artificiality of the photograph and materialize an iconographic rupture, which marks late-Ottoman photographs. In the Hamidian albums, the use of backdrops, mise-en-scene as well as the manual manipulation of the picture plane demonstrate an interest in the surface of the print, rather than in what the photographic historian Christopher Pinney calls “its narrativized indexical depths.”
This application of photographic collage illustrates a familiarity and acceptance of the artificial nature of photography. The presence of a neck clamp in a photograph of two students from the Naval Preparatory School — visible behind the feet of the figure on the left — further shows the disregard by the photographers and the palace to conceal such operational equipment. In so doing, these photographs expose the imperial image-making practice, revealing the very process by which Ottoman pupils are being seen and student identity is actively being constructed. The photographic experience, therefore, becomes a proxy for Hamidian educational policy: something that was self-consciously constructed.
State of Affairs in the Archive
Understanding Abdülhamid II’s relationship to these photographs requires a methodological shift, which, in turn, reexamines the mechanics of patronage around the albums sent to America and Britain. As an example of royal benefaction, the albums’ commission is multilayered and multidimensional. While Abdülhamid II had the unequivocal authority to tax photographic firms, as he did in 1892, as well as to designate official court photographers and later strip them of this honor, beneath his imperial presence was a battalion of courtly figures who advised him on political problems and controlled his contact with both individuals and information. Among these dignitaries were grand viziers, advisers, scribes, spies, and secret police.
As Gülru Necipoğlu has noted of sixteenth-century artistic patronage, Hamidian court ceremony did not allow the sultan to interact with artists or producers. Grand viziers and other prominent members of court, such as the head treasurer, played vital roles facilitating imperial artistic commission. The draft of a letter for the Chief Secretary’s Office of the Interior written on April 30, 1894, states that photographs of imperial postal and telegraph centers were subject to review by the grand vizier. The specific language in this document suggests that it was the position of grand vizier, and not necessarily the sultan himself, who would make decisions about the images. Through these archival documents, Grand Vizier Ahmed Cevat Paşa emerges as the leading patron. Abdülhamid II’s impact on photographs, therefore, must be understood as indirect and mediated by his counsel. The compiling of the albums was an entirely collaborative affair with the involvement of many hands both inside and outside of the palace — photographers such as Abdullah Frères and Sébah & Joailler, printers, sitters, binders, editors, and commissioners.
As an invoice from Vassilaki Kargopoulo sent to the court in July 1879 attests, photographers’ studios did not bill the sultan directly; rather, they appealed for payment to the Office of the Grand Vizier. Kargopoulo’s original statement, addressed to “S.M. le Sultan Abdul-Hamid Khan,” was altered and the ruler’s name erased. However, a receipt confirming the delivery of 1,266 of Kargopoulo’s photographs, detailed in the aforementioned invoice, corroborates the transfer of these photographs by Şeker Ahmed Paşa, the military painter, to the sultan. The mediation of official photographic projects by offices of the court notwithstanding, we know from this document that Abdülhamid II physically handled these and presumably many other albumen prints. Thus, these photographic albums, and the palace archive out of which they came, were products of imperial and commercial networks and did not emerge from the agency of a single actor.
Archival information indicates that the Hamidian court made special orders for various photographic commissions after deciding to send albums to England and America. On March 19, 1891, the Ottoman newspaper, Sabah, reported: “Abdullah Effendi (Viçen Abdullah) has begun to take large-format photographs, which are to be sent to America, of the mosques of the capital and of the Kariye, Şehit Mehmed Paşa, Yeraltı, Rüstem Paşa, and Arap Camii.” One year later, Sabah reported on the court’s completed solicitation of Vichen Abdullah for 30 x 45 cm prints of the interiors and exteriors of military schools in Istanbul as well as portraits of two students selected from each institution. The announcement read: “[T]he taking of pictures of all the schools photographed by the Ministry of Education by the talents of the artist Abdullah Effendi has been completed.” There are 107 photographs of schools and students in Istanbul by Abdullah Frères in the London and Washington albums. In 1893, the photographer wrote to the court begging for an outstanding payment of 184 liras (out of 280) that had been charged for eight albums of photographs. Implicit in these official commissions was a courtly standard for the types of photographs that were to be taken and included in the official record. One such example written under the direction of Ahmed Cevad Paşa states: “It has been notified that the permission will be granted on the condition that no absurd and ugly photographs are taken, printed or sent out. A copy of each image must be presented and reviewed previous to its dissemination or publication.”
Despite the ambiguity regarding Abdülhamid II’s personal involvement in the production of the albums, his general fascination with photography is well documented. Tahsin Paşa, the sultan’s chief secretary, famously quoted Abdülhamid II in his memoir, Abdul Hamid II ve Yıldız Hatıraları: “Every picture is an idea — a picture can inspire political and emotional meanings which cannot be conveyed by an article of a hundred pages; therefore, I benefit greatly from photographic rather than written records.” To this end, Abdülhamid II retained royal photographers throughout his reign. Quickly after his accession, he named Abdullah Frères as the official court photographers. In 1878, however, he stripped the studio of this title and replaced it with rival Greek photographer, Vassilaki Kargopoulo. Following Kargopoulo’s unexpected death, in 1886, three years later the sultan reappointed Abdullah Frères to its post.
Abdülhamid II regularly commissioned photographs of diplomatic events in Istanbul and also managed and memorialized political engagement through photographic representations. The 1891 visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife, Augusta Victoria, for example, was carefully documented. Three years later, in January 1894, a fully functional photographic studio and laboratory was installed at Yıldız Palace. Ali Riza Bey, a military photographer who produced photographs included in the American and British albums, was hired to run the imperial image-making facilities. Photographic files of royal and global officials were maintained at Yıldız Palace, and the sultan studied officials’ photographic portraits before meetings. These images flowed freely between official records and personal archives. As a part of this courtly syndicate that circulated through various channels, Abdülhamid II’s photography collection was not unified nor autonomous, but existed instead as an open collection, a stratified constellation of images and information that traveled back and forth between the palace and the public.
The production and management of Ottoman imperial photographs, and the systems in which they circulated, found an organizing structure in the form of the archive. As Thomas Richards has noted, archives unify not only knowledge or information through text and image, but also whole territories of empire as with the Abdülhamid II albums. Under the thirty-fourth sultan, photographs and their archives did more than capture Ottomans and Ottoman lands: They constructed and confirmed imperial territory from the Arabian Peninsula to the Bulgarian border. Through the official commission of the albums, seemingly opposite notions of Ottoman identity — piety and modernity — materialized as cultural unifiers to reinforce the court’s aim of religious solidarity. To take a photograph is an inherently modern desire; this is the same desire, Okwui Enwezor reminds us, that it takes to produce an archive; indeed, photographs are simultaneously documentary and archival. Out of its own photographic archive at Yıldız Palace, the Hamidian court assembled the Abdülhamid II album collection.
The number of photographs amassed throughout the Hamidian period is staggering. The Yıldız Palace archive comprises an eclectic and remarkably diverse selection of nineteenth-century photographs. Collectively, it captures the pluralism and international exchange that characterized the late-Tanzimat and early constitutional era. It forms a rich index, revealing nineteenth-century Ottoman society to be modern and multifaceted. Albums with photographs of the moon, of animal vaccination, and of Bellini’s famous Renaissance paintings; Edward Muybridge’s animal locomotion photographs; Japanese ethnographic portraits; images of the Eiffel tower from the 1889 Paris World’s Fair; and portraits of the sultanate in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands — the variety exemplifies both the diversity of photographic production and that of acquisition (figure 6). There are many images of military subjects, railroads, and manufacturing, which documented Ottoman industrialization, as well as collections of medical, landscape, and travel albums and as “face books” of foreign royalty.
Several of these albums are bound, and most read in the European style, from left to right. In addition, there are groupings of photographs that are not bound, but instead mounted on board. These often present a seemingly random assortment of unrelated images. The Yıldız archive, therefore, functions less as a comprehensive mirror of Abdülhamid II’s political policies and more as a modern montage of imperial interests. In the archival sense, it operates much as do the albums in Washington and London; its gargantuan volume impedes easy access and it has existed largely as a closed collection.
By fashioning and dispersing such a large-scale photographic treatise to the United States and the United Kingdom, the Hamidian court demonstrated its awareness that the camera constructed and confirmed cultural territory. The Ottoman world — its antiquities, navy, palace treasury, and rehabilitated education system — existed because it was documented; it was known because it was photographed. Moreover, the surplus of images amassed during the Hamidian years visualized this epistemological form of power. The utter magnitude of the Yıldız Palace archive, together with the albums sent to London and Washington, embodies the Ottoman court’s preoccupation with information and collection as tools of imperial control. As the governor to Syria, Ahmed Hamdi Paşa, wrote to the sultan’s grand vizier on February 15, 1884, “[P]hotographic images should be made of a number of antiquities which are found in the province of Syria . . . and they should be kept in the splendid palace of His Majesty the Caliph as an index of his Imperial Majesty’s knowledge.” Therefore, the camera as a knowledge-making tool and photograph as an indexical document was well understood by Abdülhamid II and his court. They realized the potential for photographs, when viewed by the greater public, to manifest as reality (rather than as representations of a particular reality) and in their appearance of truthfulness to woo hearts and minds.
Predicated on the desire to inform Great Britain and the United States — nations in the midst of their own colonial conquest — of Ottoman advancement, the assembly and donation of the albums were part of a ritual gift exchange in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Diplomatic gift exchange characterized both the acquisition and the bequest of albums by Abdülhamid II. In a letter dated August 3, 1893, to Queen Victoria’s private secretary, Sir Henry Ponsonby, from the British ambassador to Constantinople, Sir Francis Clare Ford, Sir Francis describes delivering “handsome gifts” to Her Majesty from the Ottoman sultan. The emperor, Sir Francis wrote, “expressed his earnest wish that I should present to Her Majesty certain objects as specimens of the progress which had been made in His country in industrial development”. Although the nature of these “handsome gifts” remains unclear, the date and tenor of his description suggest the collection of fifty-one photographic albums commissioned by Abdülhamid II in 1893. As Muhammad Isa Waley quotes the original correspondence, this imperial photographic survey bestowed “for the use of the British public in order that it should be generally known in England what progress has been made in Turkey since His Majesty came to the throne, and to show how greatly he is interested in the advancement of learning and education in the Empire.”
In May 1894, Sir Philip Currie, Her Majesty’s ambassador to the Porte, sent the British Foreign office a dispatch asking to forward twelve cases of books and photographs to the British Museum. At a meeting of the board of trustees on June 9, 1894, the museum formally approved the acquisition of one hundred and thirty-one printed books and forty-seven photograph albums bound in “the Osmanli colours” (the additional four albums, which would complete the fifty-one volume set, arrived within the year). The albums were indeed deposited in London, but documentary evidence related to this diplomatic interchange remains fragmentary and flawed. Such archival lacunae reveal the indifference of the British government to Abdülhamid II’s lavish gift. It is important to note here that most scholarship on the Hamidian albums has overlooked this lack of information, and instead assumed outright that the albums entered public circulation, when, in fact, we know very little about their gift and assimilation process. The general apathy toward the albums by the British eclipsed the sultan’s passionate profession of his “greatest admiration and respect for the Queen” and eager request for Sir Francis to offer his gifts to Her Majesty.
Similarly, in 1880, Abdülhamid II conferred three hundred and seventy-five printed books, in three languages, to the American Library of Congress. Two years later on May 16, 1883, Samuel S. Cox, the American congressman and diplomat who served briefly as an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, reciprocated by offering the sultan two boxes filled with photographic and stereographic views of American landscape and industry, together with a completed set of the 10th (1880) census reports (figure 7). The fourteen books forwarded by President Chester Arthur were, according to Cox, integral to an empirical and distinctively American vision of the proto-nation state. “The only way in which he [Abdülhamid] could possibly understand our advancement,” he wrote, “would be to take the salient points out of our Census reports . . . and have them suitably translated and, apply them to his own land.” Boasting of a blissful afternoon at Yıldız Palace spent sharing the “variety and completeness of the Tenth Census” with the Ottoman ruler, Cox outlined the American report:
The progress of settlements are here traced across mountains and valleys; the population with its variety of race and nativity; its educational, benevolent and religious conditions; its occupations and morality; its industries, finance, commerce, wealth, debt, taxation, expenditure and revenues — all as data for social science and political order, and in such detail as to bewilder, if they were not so methodically arranged.
Abdülhamid took Cox’s advice quite literally in an effort to chart his own “progress of settlements,” making two substantial and reciprocal donations to the Library of Congress between 1884 and 1893. The first largess consisted of printed books, which were received warmly by President Cleveland. A letter from the Ottoman Ministry of Foreign Affairs from July 21, 1887, states, “The translation of the report by the ambassador of the United States had been sent. It mentions that [the ambassador] has been commanded to repeat the sincere pleasure with which the President of the United States felt upon receiving the (Ottoman) album, presented to him by the imperial excellency.” The second comprised the fifty-one photographic albums send to Washington and London. Although inspired by the American census, the Hamidian album project constitutes as a cultural survey that relies more on an aggregate visualization of empire than on empirical statistics. A traditional census requires the systematic mapping of an entire country through the quantitative sampling of a (national) population; a survey, on the other hand, encompasses a geographic technique based on the science of measuring certain terrestrial positions.
The Hamidian albums are based not on topographical specificity, but rather on the photographic allusion to the historic and geographically vast Ottoman domains. They emerged out of the nineteenth-century survey movement, which was predicated on the authenticity and documentary potential of the photographic medium and emboldened by the photographs’ promotional, ideological, and narrative value. By its very nature, the photographic survey consisted of disparate images collected around a common theme and amassed to form a visual record available for national posterity. The survey impulse propelled socially charged projects, which worked to preserve and perform the past through photographic evidence. The mechanical realism of the camera combined with the obsession with scientific objectivity lent authority to these expansive and encyclopedic survey ventures.
For the Ottomans, this theme centered on progress — industrial, cultural, and educational — and their advancements were recognized and applauded by the United States. In the words of the American consul, writer, and publisher Alexander Russell Webb, there was “wonderful progress made by Turkey under its present Sultan, Abdülhamid II.” Through the codification of the nineteenth-century desire to chart and record, the Hamidian albums illustrate this “wonderful progress,” making it visible to the Euro-American world at large.
Circulation in the Ottoman Popular Press
Because the albums sent to Washington and London did not circulate, their archival course reflects an initial lack of such impact outside of Ottoman lands. The institutional disregard for these photographic volumes obscured Ottoman imperial interest. On Ottoman soil, however, select images that had been included in the American and British albums were dispersed through the illustrated newspapers, such as Servet-i Fünun. Much like the photographs from the United States Geological Surveys of the American West, which were printed as stereocards or on the pages of Harper’s Weekly, the popular reproduction of Ottoman people and Ottoman territories enabled the citizenry to visualize, for the first time, their empire in photographic terms.
The Hamidian press took no issue with the conversion and copying of Ottoman photographs. Founded in 1891 by Ahmet Ihsan, the weekly Servet-i Fünun regularly printed photographs on the cover. On September 1, 1900, the newspaper printed the photograph of women in the tuberculosis ward of the Hasköy Hospital that was made for and included in the albums sent to London and Washington seven years earlier (figure 8). A robust woodstove with an elongated stovepipe separates the left side of the room from the right, acting as a fulcrum upon which the image of the hospital ward orbits. Ten bright windows, fourteen sheeted beds, and two nurses guarding the door mirror each other. White veils shroud the eleven patients, who sit in profile, attentively obeying the direction of the photographer. The sterile organization of this group portrait belies the individuality of the sixty-two schoolgirls represented on other albums pages.
The women pictured at the Hasköy Hospital are not seen as diseased or disordered. Rather, they are rendered as deferential, tidy, and ordered subjects — free of the usual symptoms that plague tuberculosis patients, such as fever, chills, weight loss, chest pain, and coughing up blood. The scene is controlled and clean. The viewer does not bear witness to a dissection or diagnostic exam. Nor does the photograph portray a regulated medical reenactment, evading the implied melodrama pronounced by an album of seven photographs documenting uterine diseases in the Yıldız collection. These studio portraits portray veiled women in full dress exposing gruesome abdominal scars and posing beside their tumors, which sit brined in glass jars. Nonetheless, the hospital ward is a place of subordination and weakness. Compared to male doctors pictured at the Imperial Medical Academy, the women are presented on the verge of death, yet still monitored and surveyed by the government. The flagrant omission of adult women from the album’s photographic narrative highlights the images as representations of an idealized imperial history. Certainly, women were not expunged from the Hamidian record altogether, but for the American and British public they were quarantined by the walls of the ward, contained by the boxes of their beds, and covered by drapery from head to toe.
Curiously, on the same date, September 1, 1900, the newspaper printed a portrait of students in the School for the Deaf and Dumb that was made for and included in the albums sent to London and Washington seven years earlier. A large group portrait of twenty boys and six instructors spells out a message in sign language. The younger students hold their hands outward, palms up, in a gesture of prayer; the older students form their hands to say “Padişahim cok yasa” (Long live the sultan). While the Hamidian albums languished untouched and unviewed by their intended foreign audience, the local press — with a circulation of almost four thousand — implemented this image as an instructive picture of imperial modernity. For the court, it was as important to validate imperial medical and education progress to the Ottoman public as it was to the American and British.
The Ottoman popular press did not merely report current events; it operated as a collection of divergent interests and occurrences and had an impact on every aspect of nineteenth-century life. “From its inception,” writes Amhet Ersoy, “the illustrated press was an intensely charged public ground where the disarming potential of the photograph, its sheer exigency and malleability as an ‘uncertain’ medium, was constantly curtailed by the discursive restraints of institutional control.” An 1867 decree, drawn up by Ali Paşa during the regime of Sultan Abdülaziz, granted the government the power to shut down any newspaper, permanently or temporarily. When press laws were violated, newspapers were fined and/or suspended. This censorship continued from the Tanzimat era into the Hamidian regime despite the installation of the first Ottoman Constitution of 1876, which promised freedom of the press. Ten years after the end (1878) of the constitutional period, Abdülhamid II issued the Matbaalar Nizamnamesi (The Printing Houses Regulations; 1888). Among its directives were punishment for opening printing houses without government permission, printing books or articles against the government or someone in the government, and printing anything (poetry, prose, pictures) harmful to public morality. Thus, newspapers were not only a site of oppression but also the oppressor.
Abdülhamid II depended on court bureaucrats for world news and was, therefore, subject to their own censorship for outside information. His press department screened various forms of foreign and domestic media and assembled summary translations of noteworthy reports. Furthermore, it banned rebellious authors such as the Ottomans Namik Kemal and Ziya Paşa and French writers such as Jean Racine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Emile Zola. Abdülhamid II proscribed any articles with liberalist, nationalist, and/or constitutionalist predispositions and disavowed the discussion of current political matters in the printed press. He opposed papers such as Osmanlı and L’Orient, which began as Greek and French publications, respectively, but transitioned to Ottoman papers. On the other hand, he endorsed the French-language journal Malumat because it supported court policies. The palace determined not only what could not be printed, but also what should be printed. When censorship of European books became increasingly draconian in scope, manuscripts and journals were sent to the Ottoman world through the international postal system, which was not subject to state inspection and thus out of the court’s control.
Together, the themes of censorship and proliferation underscore the relationship between the Ottoman and the European press, and the ways in which photographs facilitated this synchronic relationship, nurturing the transnational ethos of modernity in Istanbul during the late nineteenth-century. Abdülhamid II regularly read the international picture press. His famous quote — “Every picture is an idea” — as written in Tahsin Paşa’s memoir, comes out of a statement in which Tahsin Paşa was discussing the sultan’s interest in illustrated journals. “He always followed and examined those magazines which he received by subscription, and sometimes had the interpreters translate their contents.” Not only were foreign periodicals intellectual inspiration but they were also incorporated into the system of Ottoman newspapers. In his memoir, Ahmed İhsan recalled being encouraged to publish certain pictures in Servet-i Fünun. The Hamidian government not only passed on material for publication, but also paid to import a Parisian engraver to work for the journal and teach in the School of Fine Arts (Sanai-i Nefise Mektebi) in Istanbul.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman press reached beyond the cosmopolitan elite to the urban and rural middle classes, with an impact on both an educated and an uneducated citizenry. Illustrated newspapers became more than a private phenomenon. In the 1890s, when it became routine for the print media to include photographic or photographically based illustrations, reading evolved into a public sensation. Ottoman readers were active consumers, not simply beneficiaries of imperial ideology: They were joined together through the collective act of reading and looking. Reading a newspaper is, as Gerry Beegan argues, always a shared activity, just like attending the theater or strolling down a boulevard. This communal sense of consumption transforms this act of reading into a public performance even when done in private. Even those who could not read text were informed by illustrations, and Ottoman viewership began to read the news photographically.
Images reproduced in illustrated periodicals followed a similar path of transposition and translation. As an institution that extracts photographs from an open-ended image economy and reintroduces them into an unfettered market, the nineteenth-century picture press mobilized photographs across religious, linguistic, and media borders. The technical flexibility of image production and reproduction in the illustrated press dissolved preexisting boundaries associated with the mechanical image, blending the visual practices of drawing, wood engraving, and photography.
In other words, there is a traceable provenance for the Hamidian images of empire. In order to understand this trajectory and the ways in which the popular press functions as a site of reproduction for photographs, we must heed the words of Geoffrey Belknap and “investigate the multiple chains of translation between the creation of an image . . . and its reproduction within the contexts of print communication.” Within reproductive methods in the latter half of the century, these chains of translation were fluid: that is, photography, as a form, could move freely between different processes of mechanical production, all the while engaging in various visual, textual, and material encounters. This movement, particularly for the Abdülhamid II albums, reveals the mutability of the medium and how it resists containment and categorization.
It is this defiance of controlled circumscription — indeed, photographs are never just one thing — that challenges archival operating systems. Whether one of dormancy or display, the archive generates histories of photography that are intimately entwined with institutional narratives and political discourse. At the Library of Congress, there are no records of the Hamidian albums in the its Annual Reports from the time of their acquisition in 1893, nor is there any type of gift or exchange documentation from this period.  A ten-year gap in the library’s letter books, from 1887 to 1897, incites further bewilderment on the part of the scholar seeking a rationale for their acquisition. Regardless of how they arrived at the library, the Hamidian albums have now become a permanent fixture in the American (and British) popular consciousness and are as much objects of American (and British history) as they are of Ottoman history.
In Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress corralled the Hamidian material, erasing it (if temporarily so) from the historical imaginary and removing it from popular circulation. Today, the albums have been entirely digitized and are available to anyone with an Internet connection. Through the current technology and on this particular platform, however, they are viewed outside of any narrative sequence and images are analyzed untethered from their original album. Ultimately, such a tale of archival invisibility and institutional othering asks us as readers, viewers, thinkers to question cultural memory and the systems that create it.
If photographs do not need to circulate in order fulfill their ideological purpose, what happens when we reevaluate archival ecosystems regarding degrees of stagnancy, dormancy, blockage? Inspired by the work of Tina Campt, this article theorizes the silence of closed collection as a form of stasis, “as a temporal modality of diasporic motion held in suspension.” In other words, the lack of movement, the inaction of photographic objects, is as fundemental to their epistemological function as are action and the presence of movement. Within this framework, the trajectory of the Hamidian albums does not hit a stone wall, stymieing even the most agile scholars, but rather reveals a quiet, dispossessed archive that has been historically dismissed and disregarded. It is the dismissal and disregard that gives the photographs meaning. By focusing on what Campt describes as the photographs’ haptic frequencies, we can understand — perhaps even see or hear — “the expressiveness of quiet, the generative dimensions of stasis,” which may in turn animate untold narratives about the Hamidian albums and reorient our archival encounters (both their consequences and possibilities) toward the future.
Author’s Note: I would like to acknowledge the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institut, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for their support of this research. My thanks the staff at the Nadir Eserler at Istanbul University Library, the Library of Congress, the British Library and SALT, Istanbul. I am grateful to Nancy Micklewright, Ahmet Ersoy and Edhem Eldem for their expertise in the history of Ottoman photographs. For their insightful feedback and guidance, I thank Costanza Caraffa, Emine Fetvacı, Anjuli Lebowitz, Emily Neumeier, Casey Riley, Kim Sichel, Eva-Maria Troelenberg, and Emily Voelker.
Erin Hyde Nolan is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Maine College of Art and Research Associate at Colby College. Her work centers on the intersections of the photographic history, material culture of the Islamic world, and transnational gift exchange. A recent postdoctoral fellow at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, her research has appeared in journals such as Ars Orientalis. Currently, she is at work on two projects: a book manuscript titled, Portrait Atlas: The Circulation of Portrait Photographs Between the Ottoman and Euro-American Worlds, and a co-edited volume on the global movement of land survey photography in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
With issues of record keeping and human error, it is virtually impossible to assess exactly how many people and who saw the albums at the Library of Congress. I am aware that such ambiguity exists but argue that the albums’ dormancy in US archives is less a clerical error and more a reflection of institutional and national values.
My approach to a visual economy of photographs is inspired by the anthropologist Deborah Poole in Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press 1997), 8–10.
Carney S. Gavin, Imperial Self-Portrait: The Ottoman Empire as Revealed in the Sultan Abdul-Hamid II’s Photographic Albums, Presented as Gifts to the Library of Congress (1893) and the British Museum (1894): A Pictorial Selection with Catalogue, Concordance, Indices, and Brief Essays (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, Office of the University Publisher, 1989), 4.
Gavin, Imperial Self-Portrait, 4. Gavin goes on to write that the albums are not a representative portrayal of the whole of the empire, but rather a self-portrait of a self-involved sultan who was trying to pilot the Ottoman state away from dissolution.
The idea of the patron king is one that dominates much of the study of Islamic art. See David J. Roxburgh, “Introduction: The Study of Painting and Arts of the Book,” in Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World (Leiden: Brill, 2000): 1–16.
On photography in the Persian world under Nasir al-Din Shah, see, in chronological order, Frederick Bohrer, Sevruguin and the Persian Image: Photographs of Iran, 1870–1930 (Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1999); Carmen Perez Gonzalez, Local Portraiture through the Lens of 19th-century Iranian Photographers (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2012); Ali Behdad, “Royal Portrait Photography in Iran: Constructions of Masculinity, Representations of Power,” in Ars Orientalis vol. 43 (2013): 32–45; Mirjam Brusius, “Royal Photographs in Qajar Iran: Writing the History of Photography between Persian Miniature Painting and Western Technology,” in Photography, History, Difference, ed. by Tanya Sheehan (Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College Press, 2015): 57–83; Ali Behdad, Camera Orientalis: Reflections on Photography of the Middle East (London; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
The Hamidian albums must be placed within the larger context of the nineteenth-century photographic survey movement, much like those in Japan and the United States, which reveals the broader effects of imperial photographic agendas across the globe. See Erin Hyde Nolan, “Ottomans Abroad: The Translation and Circulation of Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Portrait Photographs,” PhD Diss. (Boston University, 2017).
This collection is now housed in the Istanbul University Rare Book Library. These photographs operate in the archive in a similar fashion to that of the albums in Washington, D.C., and London. Its gargantuan volume requires management, does not afford easy access, and has existed largely as a closed collection.
The notion of collective authorship in Ottoman art history has been addressed in scholarship around the early modern period. In particular, Gülru Necipoğlu and Emine Fetvacı both discuss the importance of intermediaries, such as influential grand viziers and chief eunuchs, in imperial artistic production. See Gülru Necipoğlu, “A Kânûn for the State, a Canon for the Arts: Conceptualizing the Classical Synthesis of Ottoman Art and Architecture,” in Soliman le Magnifique et son temps, ed. Gilles Veinstein (Paris: La documentation française, 1992): 195—216; Emine Fetvacı, Picturing History at the Ottoman Court (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013), chapters 1 and 2.
Printing-out paper was used in the extent six albums. William Allen, “Analyses of Abdul Hamid II’s Gift Albums,” in Imperial Self-Portrait: The Ottoman Empire as Revealed in the Sultan Abdul-Hamid II's Photographic Albums, Presented as Gifts to the Library of Congress (1893) and the British Museum (1894): A Pictorial Selection with Catalogue, Concordance, Indices, and Brief Essays, ed. Gavin, Carney E. S. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, Office of the University Publisher, 1989), 33.
For more on the nineteenth-century French and Ottoman relationship, see Zeynep Çelik, Empire, Architecture, and the City: French-Ottoman Encounters, 1830–1914 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008).
There are a great many photographic albums documenting the city of Istanbul. For more information on these, see Nancy Micklewright, “Picturing the ‘abode of Felicity’ in 1919: A Photograph Album of Istanbul,” in Envisioning Islamic Art and Architecture, ed. David J. Roxburgh (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2014): 250–78; Nurhan Atasoy, Souvenir of Istanbul: Photographs from the Yıldız Palace Albums (Istanbul: Akkök Publications, 2010).
In her article “Off the Frame: The Panoramic City Albums of Istanbul,” Esra Akcan completes a comparative study of these panoramas, revealing that with careful looking, one will notice important differences between seemingly identical images and recognize a modernizing city with new buildings, wider roads, and less trees. See “Off the Frame: The Panoramic City Albums of Istanbul,” in Photography's Orientalism: New Essays on Colonial Representation, ed. by Ali Behdad and Luke Gartlan (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2013), 98–99.
This notion of viewing a landscape scene through pictorial conventions comes from Lester I. Vogel’s To See a Promised Land: Americans and the Holy Land in the Nineteenth Century (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), 7.
Abdülhamid II feared electricity, and allowed only hospitals, embassies, and palace hotels in Istanbul to use electrical energy. With this decree, he was able to keep his subjects in the darkness, monitoring what they could and could not see. Under his rule, two opposing phenomena — darkness (lack of electricity) and light (the flashbulb) — both serve
Derek Gregory, “Emperors of the Gaze: Photographic Practices and Productions of Space in Egypt, 1839–1914,” in Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination, ed. by Joan M. Schwartz and James R. Ryan (London: I. B. Tauris, 2003): 196.
Abdülhamid II first commissioned photographs of the precious objects and armory at the Topkapı Palace Treasury by Abdullah Frères in February 1889. See Sabah, 13 February 1889. This is first published in Bahattin Öztuncay, Hanedan Ve Kamera: Osmanlı Sarayından Portreler, Ömer M. Koç Koleksiyonu = Dynasty and Camera: Portraits from the Ottoman Court, Ömer M. Koç Collection (İstanbul: AYGAZ, 2011), 53.
My forthcoming book, Portrait Atlas: The Circulation of Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Portrait Photographs, addresses the global circulation of these images on an international scale. Although Stephen Sheehi’s analysis risks oversimplifying image narratives both inside and outside of Europe, his investigation of photographic portraits from the Arab world also warrants examination; see The Arab Imago: A Social History of Portrait Photography, 1860–1910 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016).
For more on Ottoman education reform in the nineteenth century, see Benjamin Fortna, Imperial Classroom: Islam, the State, and Education in the Late Ottoman Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
As Zeynep Çelik notes, at least one of the albums went to the fair prior to both the American and the British donations. See Zeynep Çelik, Displaying the Orient: Architecture of Islam at Nineteenth-Century World's Fairs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 45; Levant Herald and Eastern Express, 27 March 1893.
There is a striking emphasis on the Bosphorus in various nineteenth-century photographic albums (commercial and imperial), which according to Esra Akcan, provides a unique and distinct way of looking at the city of Istanbul. See Akcan, “Off the Frame,” 96–98.
For more on the relationship between utopian ideals and photographic technology and manipulation, see Yasufumi Nakamori and Graham Bader, Utopia/dystopia: Construction and Destruction in Photography and Collage (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2012).
For more on Victorian photo-collage, see Elizabeth Siegel, Bello P. Di, Marta R. Weiss, and Miranda Hofelt, Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2009).
Another example of this type of photographic cutting and pasting is in the Pierre de Gigord Collection at the Getty Research Institute. From 1890, this untitled photomontage depicts a composite scene of firefighters exiting the Galata Tower in Istanbul. See Getty Research Institute, 96r 14 a24 25 recto. Nancy Micklewright, “Alternative Histories of Photography in the Ottoman Middle East,” in Photography’s Orientalism: New Essays on Colonial Representation, ed. by Ali Behdad and Luke Gartlan (Getty Publications, 2013), 79–81.
For the names, roles, and more detailed information on these figures, such as Gazi Osman Paşa and Tahsin Paşa, see Stanford J. Shaw and Ezel K. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 213.
Gülru Necipoğlu, “A Kânûn for the State, a Canon for the Arts: Conceptualizing the Classical Synthesis of Ottoman Art and Architecture,” in Recontres de L’Ecole du Louvre, Süleyman Magnificent and His Time, Acts of the Parisian Conference, Galeries Nationales Du Grand Palais, 7–10 March 1990, edited by G. Veinstein (Paris, 1992), 203.
The letter states, “[P]hotographs of the telegraph and post centers organized for the exhibition in Chicago were viewed in the Palace of the Grand Vizier and subject to the high opinion of the Grand Vizier himself.” Thus, the arrangement in the sixteenth-century Ottoman court where Grand Viziers Rustem Paşa, and later Sokollu Mehmed Paşa played central roles in the artistic commissions of the palace. See Necipoğlu, “A Kânûn for the State, 195–216; Emine Fetvacı’s chapter on Sokollu Mehmed Paşa and the Ottoman court illustrated histories, in Picturing History at the Ottoman Court, 101–48.
TCBA: Y.PRK.MYD, 1/33. As Bahattin Öztuncay has so astutely noted, this invocation of Abdülhamid II’s name must have been seen as offensive. See The Photographers of Constantinople: Pioneers, Studios and Artists from 19th Century Istanbul (Istanbul: Aygaz, 2003), 241.
In 1889, Abdullah Frères no longer consisted of the three Abdullah brothers; Kevork and Hovsep had moved to Cairo in 1886 and opened a satellite studio there. They were successful, in part, because of the patronage of the khedive of Egypt, Tevfik Paşa, and his wife. Vichen, the eldest brother, remained in Istanbul and ran the studio alone until 1899, when it was sold. In 1889, he was named “Chief Photographer to His Majesty the Sultan.” Based on archival documents, invoices, and correspondence, Öztuncay has argued this fact, and published his findings in The Photographers of Constantinople, 225.
When the German leader and the king of Prussia arrived in the Porte aboard their yacht, Hohenzollern, on November 2, 1891, Viçen Abdullah photographed the occasion, recalling the 1867 photographs made by W. & D. Downey of Sultan Abülaziz and Abdülhamid II as prince. An album commemorating the German visit was produced in record time and gifted to Kaiser Wilhelm upon his departure from Istanbul four days later. A reciprocal gift album from Kaiser Wilhelm to Abdülhamid II exists in the Yıldız collection. See Album 90483.
See albums 90671, 90513, 779-58, 91308, 779-24, 91510, respectively, all in the Yıldız Palace Collection. For more information on the Muybridge albums, see Emily Neumeier, “The Muybridge Albums in Istanbul: Photography as Diplomacy in the Ottoman Empire,” in a forthcoming edited volume by Indiana University Press, 2019.
Muhammad Isa Waley, “Images of the Ottoman Empire: The Photograph Albums Presented by Sultan Abdülhamid II,” in Electronic British Library Journal (1991), art. 9: 112; www.bl.uk/eblj/1991article9.pdf. The archival records that Waley refers to are not listed in his notes, in which he simply thanks the librarians at the British Library for locating the related documents. I have not been able to find the documents despite several attempts, different lines of inquiry, and assistance from the very kind people at the Central Archive at the British Museum. Therefore, I rely on his article and expertise for this archival information.
“Board of Trustees of the British Museum, Minutes of the Standing Committee 9th June 1894.” The additional four photographic albums to which I refer are no difference in appearance, structure, or content from the initial forty-seven albums.
In his diplomatic relations with the United States, Abdülhamid II built on a mutually respectful relationship established by his grandfather Mahmud II, who favored America with the 1830 Treaty of Commerce and Navigation. Under this agreement, the Ottomans traded opium, figs, and raisins for American rum and colonial products. See Emrah Şahin, “Sultan’s America: Lessons from Ottoman Encounters with the United States,” in Journal of American Studies of Turkey, 39 (2014): 59–60.
Abdülhamid II was inspired not only by the American census, but also by American opinions in general. As Emrah Şahin writes, “During his reign, the Translation Bureau, a branch of the Ottoman government, translated American opinions on the Ottoman status quo, and the missionary institutions, established by the agents of the American Board, flourished in fin-de-siècle Istanbul.” See Şahin, “Sultan’s America,” 60. Furthermore, we know this to be true because of the donation of Native American portrait photographs by the US government to the Ottoman court throughout the 1880s, and particularly from Abdülhamid II’s keen interest in these as records of settler-colonial accomplishment.
Although the term “documentary” was coined in the 1930s in America, it was, in fact, invented and implemented in nineteenth-century photographic practice. This utilization of the documentary approach transcended cultural and geographic boundaries and was not used solely by photographers in the Euro-American tradition. As demonstrated in the multiple albums produced by Abdülhamid II and contrary to popular belief, the documentary photograph is not a product of an individual modernist enterprise; it is a collective historical endeavor. Documentary photographs contain many layers of intentionality as well as simultaneously engaging various definitions of the documentary medium.
Alexander Russell Webb (An American Observer), A Few Facts About Turkey Under the Reign of Abdul Hamid II (New York, 1895), 3. Webb was the US ambassador to the Philippines from 1887 to 1892. A Muslim convert, he allied himself with Abdülhamid II’s efforts to promote Islamic ideologies in America. See Şahin, “Sultan’s America,” 61–62.
This article is not meant to offer a comprehensive review of the picture press in either the Ottoman or the Euro-American world. Although outside of the scope of this specific project, a thorough study is necessary, and such scholarship would improve our understanding of the picture press at this moment in history.
It was also recognized as the agent for new literature in the last decade of the nineteenth century through its publication of early writings by distinguished Ottoman poets and novelists, among them Tevfik Fikret (1867–1915) and Halit Ziya Ukakligil (1865–1945). The writings of this school came to be known as Servet-i Fünun literature.
For more information on medical photography in the Ottoman Empire, see Zeynep Çelik, “Photographing Mundane Modernity,” in Camera Ottomana: Photography and Modernity in the Ottoman Empire, 1840–1914 (Istanbul: Koç University Press, 2015), 182–200.
See album 90608 in the Yıldız Palace Archive. Zeynep Çelik discusses a copy of this album in the Ömer Koç collection that includes twelve photographs in her essay “Photographing Mundane Modernity,” 192. These medical portraits deserve a full formal and historical analysis. In particular, the relationship between the representation of the face and the “facial” stitches on these women’s stomachs demands further attention and I plan to address this in future work.
Edhem Eldem in “Powerful Images,” 137. While more research needs to be conducted on the Ottoman illustrated press, Ahmet Ersoy has noted that is presumed that most of the readers of journals printed in Ottoman Turkish were Muslim. We do know that the publishing scene in Istanbul was international and did include Greeks and Armenians, for example. See Ersoy, “Ottomans and the Kodak Galaxy,” 333.
Gül Karagöz-Kizilca, “‘Voicing the Interests of the Public?’ Contestation, Negotiation, and the Emergence of Ottoman Language Newspapers During the Financial Crises of the Ottoman Empire, 1862–1875,” PhD Diss. (State University of New York at Binghamton, 2011), 2. Karagoöz-Kizilca notes that the field of Ottoman history has yet to address the social and cultural implications of the Ottoman press in the nineteenth century and has treated newspapers as records of events. She rightfully remarks that this is also, to some extent, the case for the historiography of the simply “Western” press.
Ersoy, “Ottomans and the Kodak Galaxy,” 332. With the term “uncertain art,” Ersoy references Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 18.
As a potential platform for public dissent, the popular press and its pervasiveness incited fear in the government. In an effort to manage his concern and enforce the myriad publication laws first instituted in 1857 under Abdülmecid, Abdülhamid II extended the criminal code to include crimes of the press. See Ebru Boyar, “The Press and the Palace: The Two-Way Relationship between Abdülhamid II and the Press, 1876–1908,” in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 69, no. 3 (2006): 421–22.
The Press Department at this time was directed by an Armenian man named Nisan Efendi and later by his brother Sefer Efendi. In addition to scrutinizing news items for the sultan, they translated foreign novels for his perusal. Shaw and Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, 254.
I am grateful to Lorans Tanatar Baruh, who works in Archives and Research at SALT in Istanbul, for this information. She graciously guided me through the SALT archives and imparted her own knowledge of the Ottoman press.
Edhem Eldem has investigated this censorship through a comparison of three Istanbul-based Ottoman newspapers: Malumat, İrtika, and Servet-i Fünun, all of which published the same photograph of a hospital ward on June 5, 1899, on the occasion of the circumcision ceremony of His Imperial Highness Abdul-Rahim Efendi (son of Abdülhamid II). As Eldem notes, the synchronicity of these publications reveals the “univocal and unconditional” submission of the Ottoman press to the regime’s ideological priorities. See Edhem Eldem, “Powerful Images: The Dissemination and Impact of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 1870–1914,” in Camera Ottomana: Photography and Modernity in the Ottoman Empire, 1840–1914, ed. by Zeynep Çelik, Edhem Eldem, and Hande Eagle (Istanbul: Koç University Press, 2015), 131.
Nancy Micklewright, “Late-nineteenth-century Ottoman Wedding Costumes as Indicators of Social Change,” in Muqarnas, vol. VI (1989): 161–74. See chapter 3 in Ahmet Evin, Origins and Development of the Turkish Novel (Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1983) for more information on European literature in nineteenth-century Istanbul.
Tahsin Paşa, Sultan Abdülhamid: Tahsin Paşa'nın Yıldız Hatıraları (Cağaloğlu, İstanbul: Boğaziçi, 1990): 355–56. Thanks to Edhem Eldem, who historicizes this extremely popular quote about Abdülhamid II’s interest in the use of images. We can now recognize that the sultan was referring not only to pictures in an artistic or official context, but equally to images reproduced in the press, and by extension the proliferation of these images on an international scale.
No acquisition records from 1893 to 1894 were preserved in the Library of Congress Archives prior to the move into the Thomas Jefferson Building, in 1897 (four years after the donation of the albums).
There is evidence that the Library of Congress participated in the American Library Association’s exhibit on library economy at the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition, and the Librarian of Congress, Ainsworth Rand Spofford, actively engaged in the planning of this event. Some of the Hamidian photographs were displayed in Chicago, and on other occasions the library was able to acquire materials that had been on display at world’s fairs. However, I have yet to locate a direct link between the two.
Nicholas Yablon, “Posing for Posterity: Photographic Portraiture and the Invention of the Time Capsule, 1876–89,” in History of Photography vol. 38, issue 4 (2014): 354. The notion of the archive as a fluid and functioning ecosystem comes from the most inspiring conversations with Costanza Caraffa as well as her book on the relationship among nations, photographs, and archives. See Costanza Caraffa and Tiziana Serena, Photo Archives and the Idea of Nation (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015).