Facing the Other: A critical approach to the construction of identity narratives in the early photographic practice of the Ottoman Empire

  • Ertem F
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When photography spread outside Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, it played an important role in transforming the Ottoman Empire. Not only it was used to record its history, but also it became a means of marketing the 'Orient' as a commercial port, trading centre, market for European goods and site for foreign investments. At that time, photography was generally a field occupied by a small group of people with a Western background. Their aims were usually to photograph landscapes, including ceremonial marketplaces, streets, and examples of religious and civilian architecture that reflected the texture of life in large cities. Among these non-Muslim photographers, there were some - such as the Abdullah Brothers, Vassilaki Kargopoulo and Pascal Sebah - who also executed a series of work that reflects a general attitude towards photography in Europe: the desire to create/categorize subjectivities through the construction of identity narratives. In their photographs, we thus perceive an attempt of identifying everyday life people according to their jobs or specific characteristics. This paper explores some of these photographs in terms of their possibility of questioning and/or breaking such a construction, by focusing on the act of posing and its potential in questioning (self-)identification and (self-)recognition. It thus reveals that, in an era where photography was used to create an image of the 'Other', the encounter of this 'Other' with the photographic camera for the first time may provide us with examples of posing subjects who appear to expose some inner conflicts and incongruities, permitting us to question the power of photography in the construction of identity narratives.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Abdullah Brothers
  • Ottoman Empire
  • Pascal S??bah
  • Vassilaki Kargopoulo
  • identity narratives
  • photography
  • posing

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  • Fulya Ertem

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