Ottomans and the Kodak Galaxy: Illustrated Journals and Photography During the Hamidian Era (1876-1909)

A lecture by Ahmet Ersoy, Department of History at Bogaziçi University, Istanbul

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Duration: 56:20

This lecture is part of a broader project that investigates photography in the Ottoman Empire with particular focus on the illustrated journals of the Abdülhamid era (1876-1909). The aim is to distinguish the status of photography in the Ottoman domain with reference to a broader and variegated environment of medial production, dissemination and reception. Rather than approaching the Ottoman photographic material as discrete objects of pure aesthetic and connoisseurial interest, or taking them as confirmatory evidence of all-pervading ideologies, the study follows and historicizes the traces of these images in the context of infinite, quotidian reproducibility, as they were produced, redeployed, collated with texts, and disseminated in the pages of the illustrated journals. It proposes to see these images as the product of changing medial practices and protocols that extended from the Hamidian archive and gift albums, to newspaper causerie, snapshots, postcards, illustrated textbooks and dime novels. The mechanically reproduced images in question demanded new systems of value and new rhetorical strategies in the course of their deployment, and, as they were spilled out in the Ottoman terrain, they signaled the rise of a changing experience of reading texts and images. 

Ahmet Ersoy is Associate Professor at the History Department at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. His work deals with the history of the Late Ottoman Empire with a special focus on the changing role and status of visual culture during a period of westernizing change. A major aim in his work has been to link visuality with rising discourses of locality and authenticity in the late Ottoman context, thereby situating art and architecture within the broader fields of cross-cultural studies and historiography.

His first book, Discourses of Collective Identity, edited with Vangelis Kechriotis and Maciej Gorny, is the product of a collective effort by scholars in Central and Southeastern Europe to make a critical and comparative reading of texts that played a foundational role in the making of national identities in the region (from the eighteenth into the twentieth century).

His forthcoming book, Architecture and the Late Ottoman Historical Imaginary: Reconfiguring the Architectural Pastin a Modernizing Empire,  links the visual traces of modernity (particularly the newfangled revivalist movement that was promulgated as a rising “Ottoman Renaissance”) with changing perceptions of the historical past in the late Ottoman realm. In its cross-disciplinary scope, the book provides an intellectual depth of field to the historicist pursuits of late Ottoman artists and architects, and investigates the rise of a modern culture of authenticity in the late Ottoman context.

Ersoy’s recent project involves a study of photography and other means of mechanical image-reproduction in the late Ottoman world. He aims to understand the broader impact of this new visual regime in the context of Ottoman culture.