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Sébah (Pascal), People of the Ottoman Empire
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Pascal Sébah, People of the Ottoman Empire album
    Date (inclusive): 1870s
    Number: 2010.R.16
    Creator/Collector: Sébah, Pascal, 1823-1886
    Physical Description: 1 Linear Feet 1 album (117 photographs)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    Business Number: (310) 440-7390
    Fax Number: (310) 440-7780
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The album contains 117 albumen studio portraits (104 cartes-de-visite and 13 cabinet cards) of people who inhabited the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century taken by photographers with studios in Constantinople (Istanbul). While the bulk of the photographs are by Pascal Sébah, 11 portraits by Rober Caracachian, and two photographs by Pascal's brother, Cosmi Sébah, are also present.
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    Language: Collection material is in French with some Italian.

    Biographical / Historical

    Pascal Sébah (1823-1886) was born in Istanbul (then Constantinople). His father was a Syrian Melkite Catholic, and his mother was Armenian. Sébah purportedly started his studies for the priesthood in Venice, but dropped out and returned to Istanbul. How he obtained training as a photographer is unknown. He opened his first photography studio, P. Sébah & Cie at 10 rue Tom-Tom in 1856 or 1857. He soon renamed his studio El Chark Societé Photographique ("The East"), and by 1860 moved to 232 Grande Rue de Péra, and sometime after 1868 to number 439 on the same street, all the while keeping the Tom-Tom premises as a workshop. He also opened a branch on Jardin des Fleurs that was destroyed by fire in 1870. As evidenced by the proliferation of its locations, Sébah's business became one of the most successful studios in the city, due in large part to its popularity with the tourist trade. Sébah's early work was in landscape photography - scenes and views - including panoramas of Istanbul, but he was also in demand as a portrait photographer. His images catering to the tourist trade included numerous studio portraits depicting the diversity of Istanbul's inhabitants.
    In the early 1870s, Sébah became associated with the painter Osman Hamdi Bey, for whom he produced photographs of models that the artist then used as studies for his paintings. He also contributed the photographs for Osman Hamdi Bey's Les costumes populaires de la Turquie en 1873 , which was published under the patronage of the Ottoman Imperial Commission for the 1873 Vienna International Exhibition. Sébah took seventy-four photographs specifically for the publication which were printed in the Tom-Tom workshop as phototypes, the photomechanical process also known as collotype. Sébah also received a bronze medal for the views he entered in the exposition. In the same year, Sébah established a studio in Cairo, which produced a great number of scenes of Egyptian life. These were likely taken by photographers other than Sébah, including perhaps Antoine Laroche, an early associate and employee who moved from Istanbul to Cairo, eventually setting up his own studio there.
    The Tom-Tom workshop burned in 1881 with the fire destroying the firm's photographic equipment and the extensive archive of negatives - of Istanbul, Bursa, Edirne, Athens, and Cairo - that Sébah had amassed over the years. Only two years later, before he could rebuild his collection, Sébah suffered a brain hemorrhage. His brother Cosmi Sébah, who had worked first with Pascal and then opened his own photography business in 1875, took over the running of Pascal's firm. Sébah's sixteen-year-old son, Jean Pascal Sébah (1872-1947), entered the firm a few years later. Jean went into partnership with Policarpe Joaillier in 1888, doing business under the name Sébah & Joaillier, while Cosmi continued to run the old studio. Sébah & Joaillier acquired the negatives of Abdullah Frères in 1899. Later renamed Photo Sabah (sabah is Turkish for "morning"), the firm remained in business until 1952.
    Rober Caracachian (Robert Garakashyan, active 1870s-1920) was an Armenian photographer who was also based in Istanbul. He opened a studio at 677 Teke in the 1870s that supplied the tourist trade with portraits of Turkey's multi-ethnic inhabitants.
    Sources consulted:
    ______. "Rober Caracachian." Database of Armenian Photo-Media Practitioners. http://www.lusarvest.org/practitioners/caracachian-rober.
    Jacobson, Ken. Odalisques and Arabesques: Orientalist Photography, 1839-1925 . London: Bernard Quaritch, 2007.
    Özendes, Engin. From Sébah & Joaillier to Foto Sabah: Orientalism in Photography . Translated by Priscilla Mary Işun. Istanbul: YKY, 2004.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Pascal Sébah, People of the Ottoman Empire album, 1870s, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2010.R.16.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Acquired in 2010.

    Processing Information

    The album was cataloged by Beth Ann Guynn in 2010. In 2022, due to the condition of the mounts, the photographs were removed from the album by the Getty Research Institute conservation lab, and Guynn rehoused the photographs and wrote the finding aid.

    Digitzed Material

    The collection was digitized by the repository in 2022 and the images are available online:

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The album contains 117 albumen studio portraits (104 cartes-de-visite and 13 cabinet cards) depicting the wide range of people who inhabited the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century. While the bulk of the photographs are by Pascal Sébah, 11 portraits by Rober Caracachian, and two photographs by Pascal's brother, Cosmi Sébah, are also present. Annotations made by unidentifed persons on the album mounts and the versos of the cartes-de-visite identify the sitters by their ethnicity, religion, or occupation. The sitters are noted as being ethnically Albanian, Arab, Armenian, Bohemian, Bulgarian, Circassian, Greek, Israelite, Kurd, Lebanese, Serb, Syrian, or Turk. Sufis (dervishes), Christians, Jews, and Druzes are among the persons identified by their religion. A number of the portraits of women are labled "dame turque" or "dame turque chez elle" (many of these portraits were likely taken in the studio and not "at home" as their titles indicate, although in the case of those without a studio backdrop present in the image this can not be stated conclusively). Included, among other occupations, are street vendors selling various kinds of wares and foods, porters, palace guards, soldiers, priests, and religious mendicants. The only sitter identified by name is Sultan Abdülaziz I, whose 1873 portrait by Pascal Sébah opens the album.
    The card photographs are inserted in twenty card-slot mounts.The photographs begin with three cabinet card portraits: Sultan Abdülaziz I, a veiled Turkish woman, and a priest at prayer. These are followed by 16 pages of cartes-de-visite beginning with portraits of Turkish women as well as Greeks, Armenians, Circassians, and women of other ethnicities. Next are portraits of men, beginning with professors and priests, and moving on to dervishes. The section concludes with several portraits of women of various ethnicities. Next are eight cabinet cards depicting a nursing mother, women with hookahs, Druzes, and zeybek warriors. They are followed by ten pages of cartes-de-visite of soldiers, warriors, and male street vendors. The album concludes with two cabinet cards: a portrait of two Syrian women and a Turkish family group of a little boy seated between his mother and nanny.
    The prize medal dates reproduced on the imprints on the versos of Pascal Sébah's mounts indicate the cards were produced in 1873 or thereafter and in 1878 or thereafter. The photographs themselves were taken in the 1870s. An example of how Sébah used and reused his images over time, mounting them on cards bearing the latest iteration of his imprint, can be found in the copy of Sébah's 1873 portrait of Sultan Abdülaziz present in the album that is on a cabinet card mount that includes a reproduction of the medal Sébah won at the 1878 exposition universelle.
    The album is bound in brown pebbled leather with a large rectangle of the leather cut out of the front cover which suggests that a title, name, or other device has been removed. Four silver-colored metal bosses act as feet on the back cover, and the album's spine is lacking. The album closes with a crude brass-colored hinge on the fore edge. The edges of the album leaves gilt.
    Most of the card photographs are annotated on the verso in French with the sitter's occupation, ethicity, or religion and a negative (?) number. This set of annotations was likely added by the photographer's studio. Annotations in Italian, possibly added by the album's owner, appear on the album mounts below a number of the photographs. The titles of the individual photographs are from these nineteenth-century annotations as indicated, with preference given to the studio's annotations on the card versos. Consequently, some of the nineteenth-century titles include terms which readers may find to be racist, biased, perjorative, or offensive.


    Arranged in a single series: Series I. Pascal Sébah, People of the Ottoman Empire album, 1870s.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Abdülaziz, Sultan of the Turks, 1830-1876

    Subjects - Topics

    Clothing and dress -- Turkey
    Women -- Turkey -- Portraits
    Men -- Turkey -- Portraits
    Occupations -- Turkey

    Subjects - Places

    Turkey -- Kings and rulers

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Albumen prints -- Turkey -- 19th century
    Photograph albums -- Turkey -- 19th century
    Cabinet cards -- Turkey -- 19th century
    Cartes-de-visite -- Turkey -- 19th century
    Photographs, Original.
    Group portraits -- Turkey -- 19th century
    Studio portraits -- Turkey -- 19th century


    Sébah, Pascal, 1823-1886
    Caracachian, Rober
    Sébah, Cosmi