Turkish Photography

Prof. Mehmet Bayhan,
Yildiz Technical University,
Vocational School of Photography
Recommended Readings



  • The contemporary art of the period was closely observed at the palace and the surroundings during the Ottoman era. However the spreading of this interest was prevented in the society by religious customs of Muslims and Jews forbidding human and animal figures. The public preference to work for the state in army, administration and religion was another factor preventing Western art trends to open into the Turkish society. In conclusion, almost all careers of art, crafts and commerce were left to the minorities.  
  • The invention of photography was announced in a newspaper in Istanbul on 28th of October 1839. A booklet showing Daguerre's type was translated and edited in 1841, thus studios began to open. Druggists and chemists who were usually Armenians easily adopted in daguerreotyping with the experience in their profession. They were followed by the Greeks and Europeans settled in Istanbul. There were many people dealing with photography in the palace and mansions of pashas. Especially after the use of collodion and negative glass, the palace made use of the influence of the photography. Albums of photographed harbours, factories, schools, barrocks, military units, committees coming from abroad, ceremonies and even all sentences to be pardoned were presented to the Palace. About 800 albums left from the 19th century are today in the Istanbul University Library.

    Camera obscura was being used in the military schools since the beginning of the 19th century. Photography classes were scheduled besides the painting classes. First Turkish photographers were of military origin as first artists were. However, they did not deal with promotional photography.

    The Ottoman territories considered East and the life style attracted attention of the Europe at the time. European travelling photographers photographed everything. Selling photographs to these travellers became an important income for the studios opened in Istanbul and other cities. These photographers documented city sights, sceneries, leading names of the period and the social life.            

    Vichen (death 1900), who had worked in a studio opened by a German chemist Rabach in 1856, took over the studio in 1858 together with his brothers Hovsep (death 1902) and Kevork (1839-1918). They were promoted to the Photographers of the Palace and became famous in Europe under the name of Abdullah Brothers. Pascal Sebah (birth 1838) who opened his studio in 1857 and became partners with Policarpe  Joaillier in 1888 renowned under the name of Sebah & Joaillier. The chief engraver of the Ottoman Mint, James Robertson (British) (1812-1888) photographed the historical structures of Istanbul and the Crimean War in 1855 as a substitute for Roger Fenton who was sick. Nikolai Andreomenos (1850-1929), Guillaume Berggren (Swedish)  (1835-1920) and others were also renowned in the West. Some of the studios of the time lasted till 1950's in hands of their children or young partners.  

    Rahmizade Bahaeddin Bediz (1875-1951) was the first Turk to open a studio in Istanbul in 1910. This renowned studio trained many photographers in fifteen years. Years of war, political and economic crises, briefly the decay of an Empire, prevented photography to spread out and art trends from expanding. After the establishment of the Republic (October 29, 1923) development took place. Esat Nedim Tengizman (1897-1980), Etem Tem (death 1971) and Cemal Isiksel (1905-1989) were the most successful to photograph Ataturk after the War of Independence. Studios spread out to the cities of Asia Minor. The young Republic entrusted photographers who supplied publications that promoted the Republic. Travelling in the Asia Minor became customary. Othmar Pferschy (1898-1984) raised in Austria and settled in Turkey is of great importance. 

    After the 1930's, like all other art branches, photography perked up with the founding of the Halkevleri / Public Centers. Courses, exhibitions and competitions were arranged. Sinasi Barutcu (1906-1985) started photography courses for the first time in undergraduate studies, published the first photography magazine, founded the first association and produced many works. The development of the printing sector reinforced the works of photography in daily life and the Press. The Hayat Dergisi / Life Magazine published first in 1956, and later others making room for photographs accelerated a wider Press staff. Professional photography with emphasis in promotion as a result of changes in economy and tourism post 1960 gained ground. One of the first person in this field is Sami Guner (1915-1991) who travelled continiously to the far corners of the country for bank calenders. There are staff and studios that can solve technical and aesthetic problems on an international level in contemporary professional photography. Advanced laboratories and minilabs have spread over the country, the refinement of arts and crafts declined in the monotony of the secure laboratories. The absence of production of camera and supplies is another important factor.



    The oldest existing photography association was founded in 1959 reaching to 24 at present. Organization and studies progress rapidly. Many competitions, exhibitions and shows are realised all over the country. Photography studies have accelerated especially after 1970. A body of outstanding photographers has been developing, although their publications are not satisfactory.

    The first photography section in university education was founded in 1979. Photography education in six universities today are: Dokuz Eylul (Izmir), Kocaeli (Izmit), Marmara (Istanbul), Mimar Sinan (Istanbul), Onsekiz Mart (Canakkale) and Yildiz Technical (Istanbul).

    There is no museum yet. Yildiz Technical University Photography Center which is the only institute in this field is getting prepared in this direction. One can apply to the Director of the Center, Prof. Mehmet Bayhan for further information and contacts.

    Recommended Readings

    -Photography in the Ottoman Empire- 1839-1919, Engin Cizgen, Haset Bookhouse

    -Images d'Empire / Aux Origines de Photographie en Turquie, Exhibition catalog, Collection Pierre Gigord, Osmanli Bankasi publications
    -James Robertson, Pioneer of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, Bahattin Oztuncay, Eren Publications
    -25 Yilin Fotograf Tutanagi / Photography Minutes of 25 Years- 1960-1987, Seyit Ali Ak, personal publication
    -Turkce Fotograf Yayinlari Katalogu / Catalog of Turkish Photography Publication- 1871-1993, Seyit Ali Ak & Alberto Modiano, personal publication
    -Turk Fotografinda Yeni Yaklasimlar / New Approaches in Turkish Photography- 1987, Album, Yildiz Technical University
    -Gunumuz Turk Fotografi / Contemporary Turkish Photography- 1989, Album, Yildiz Technical University
    -Profesyonel Tanitim Fotografcilari / Professional Promotion Photographers- 1991, Album, private publication