British photographic history

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Early Photography in the Ottoman Empire

The invention of photography was first announced in Istanbul's local Takvim-i Vekayi newspaper on 28th October 1839, but travelers were already photographing the empire's landscape as early as 1840.

Sultan Abdulhamid II, who reigned from 1876 to 1909, was known as a conservative monarch that was also open to technological development. He was known to have a profound interest in photography, as evidenced by his extensive archives and his proficiency in its techniques. The municipality of Istanbul has just published a three-volume book of photos taken during his reign which will provide a first chance for the public to view previously unseen photos from the end of the 19th century and the turn of the 20th century, as most had only been accessible to archivists until now.

The three books, “Family Album of Sultan Abdulhamid II,” “The World from the Archive of Sultan Abdulhamid II” and “Sultan Abdulhamid II Istanbul Photos,” provide a selection of some of the 35,000 photos that the sultan kept in his Yıldız Albums. The albums also include biographies of photographers and an introduction to photography shops in order to introduce the Ottoman photography business to readers.

For example, “The World from the Archive of Sultan Abdulhamid II” includes photos of various countries. Among the artists whose photos are featured in this book are Achille Quinet, who patented the first twin-lens camera, Edward Anthony, who produced the first camera for public use, Giorgio Sommer, who is known for photos that he took during the explosion of Mount Vesivius in Italy in 1872, and the photographer of the French queen, Jean Laurent.

The Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) produced the reproduction of these photos and took the first step toward the IRCICA photography archive. These photos have been classified and archived by a team for many years and presented to researchers. The archive has become richer thanks to donations throughout the years and today the IRCICA archive is known as a useful reference and documentation. This archive includes 70,000 photos under 90 collection titles.

Photo: The three books include photos displaying the life of the Ottoman sultans and their families as well as various countries and Istanbul from different perspectives.

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