Free: Download Thousands of Ottoman-Era Photographs That Have Been Digitized and Put Online

“Turkey is a geo­graph­i­cal and cul­tur­al bridge between the east and the west,” writes Istan­bul University’s Gönül Bakay. This was so long before Con­stan­tino­ple became Istan­bul, but after the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the region took on a par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance for Chris­t­ian Europe. “The Turk” became a threat­en­ing and exot­ic fig­ure in the Euro­pean imag­i­na­tion, “shaped by a con­sid­er­able body of lit­er­a­ture, stretch­ing from Christo­pher Mar­lowe to Thomas Car­lyle.” Images of Ottoman Turkey were long drawn from a “mix­ture of fact, fan­ta­sy and fear.”

With the advent of pho­tog­ra­phy in the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, those images were sup­ple­ment­ed, illus­trat­ed, and coun­tered by prints depict­ing Turk­ish peo­ple both in every­day life cir­cum­stances and in Ori­en­tal­ist pos­es.

In the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, as mod­ern­iza­tion took hold all over Europe, view­ers might encounter pho­tos of women in pos­es rem­i­nis­cent of the Odal­isque and street scenes of bustling, cos­mopoli­tan Con­stan­tino­ple, with signs in Ottoman Turk­ish, Eng­lish, French, Armen­ian, and Greek.

Pho­tos of Enver Pashade fac­to ruler of the Ottoman Empire dur­ing World War I and “high­est-rank­ing per­pe­tra­tor of the Armen­ian geno­cide,” writes Isot­ta Pog­gi at the Getty’s blog—cir­cu­lat­ed along­side images like that below, a group of Turk­ish tourists posed near the Sphinx. These and thou­sands more such pho­tographs of Ottoman Turkey at the turn of the cen­tu­ry and into the first years of the Turk­ish Repub­lic—3,750 dig­i­tized images in total—are now avail­able to view and down­load at the Get­ty Research Insti­tute.

The pho­tos come from French col­lec­tor Pierre de Gig­ord, who acquired them dur­ing his many trav­els through Turkey in the 1980s. They were tak­en by pho­tog­ra­phers, some of whose names are lost to his­to­ry, from all over Europe and the Mediter­ranean, includ­ing Armen­ian pho­tog­ra­phers who played a “cen­tral role,” notes Pog­gi, “in shap­ing Turkey’s nation­al cul­tur­al his­to­ry and col­lec­tive mem­o­ry.” (Read artist Hande Sever’s Get­ty essay on this sub­ject here.) The huge col­lec­tion con­tains “land­mark archi­tec­ture, urban and nat­ur­al land­scape, arche­o­log­i­cal sites of mil­len­nia-old civ­i­liza­tions, and the bustling life of the diverse peo­ple who lived over 100 years ago.”

Despite the loss of mate­ri­al­i­ty in the trans­fer to dig­i­tal, a loss of “for­mat­ting, or sense of scale” that changes the way we expe­ri­ence these pho­tos, they “enable us to learn about the past,” writes Pog­gi, “see­ing Turkey’s diverse soci­ety” as photography’s ear­ly view­ers did, and to bet­ter under­stand the present, “observ­ing how cer­tain sites and peo­ple, as well as social or polit­i­cal issues, have evolved yet still remain the same.” Enter the Pierre de Gig­ord col­lec­tion at the Get­ty here.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic/The Get­ty

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Archive of Mid­dle East­ern Pho­tog­ra­phy Fea­tures 9,000 Dig­i­tized Images

Venice in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images 125 Years Ago: The Rial­to Bridge, St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca, Doge’s Palace & More

Tsarist Rus­sia Comes to Life in Vivid Col­or Pho­tographs Tak­en Cir­ca 1905–1915

An Online Gallery of Over 900,000 Breath­tak­ing Pho­tos of His­toric New York City

The Library of Con­gress Makes Thou­sands of Fab­u­lous Pho­tos, Posters & Images Free to Use & Reuse

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Alban Sokoli says:

    Inter­est­ing to see the Ottoman Empire old pic­tures, today turkey coun­try built with a mon­ey of the peo­ple. they built only Istan­bul and a few cities you can rec­og­nize
    in the pic­ture sone city of Turkey today, but in oth­er side of the empire provinces, anoth­er region’s stretched it was poor and suf­fer­ing dur­ing that time. Espe­cial­ly the Balka­ns where the Turk­ish Empire build only one bridge and the Thou­sand mosques. Which nobody need them any­more. I hope they show the maps real maps of the coun­tries in the Balkan where the bor­ders are so the Balkan prob­lem can be solved today.

  • Serge Enokian says:

    Very inter­est­ed in fotos from this time and in the Mid­dle East.

  • Vangelis Andreadakis says:


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