mercoledì 10 dicembre 2014

Abdullah Frères: Ottoman court photographers

The Armenian community played a principal role in the flourishing of various crafts and trades in the Ottoman Empire; this involvement continued even after the fall of the Ottomans. As a response to political persecution and genocide, Armenian crafts and trades spread to refugee areas in the Eastern Arabic regions of the Levant, Iraq, and Egypt, as well as to Iran and Middle Asia.

The spread of photography, at the forefront of those trades where Armenians played a leading role, was met with puritanical religious opposition. Because photographers were labeled ‘unbelievers’ by some religious puritans put off by the creation of human images, only specific groups of ‘Ottoman citizens’ – Armenians, Syrian Christians and other minorities – pursued the craft. From the last decade of the nineteenth century, these minority groups owned photographic studios in most cities in the Ottoman Empire and in Egypt.

The existence of so many Europeans in Istanbul, increasing numbers of European tourists to the East and especially Egypt, and the growing numbers of pilgrims to the Holy Land all created a demand for previously unheard-of services and crafts (like photography). Official tourists to Istanbul, for example, proceeded directly to ‘Abdullah Brothers photography studio to record their visit with a snapshot. Among the studio patrons were British Prince Albert Edward in 1869, Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie de Montijo, and the Emperor of Austria Franz Joseph.

The Ottoman Armenian brothers Vhichen (1820–1902), Hovsep (1830–1908) and Kevork Abdullah (1839–1918) operated a famed photographic studio in Istanbul from 1858 to 1900, when they sold the firm to Jean Sébah and Policarpe Joaillier. Known by their French name Abdullah frères (Abdullah brothers), they became official royal photographers to the Ottoman Sultan in 1863, and had the right to use the royal monogram. Between 1866 and 1895, they also had a branch studio in Cairo.

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