ABDULLAH FRÉRES (Ottoman Empire / act: Constantinople 1858-1895, Egypt 1886-1899)

Viçen Abdullah The three Abdullah brothers of Armenian origin - Viçen (1820-1902), Hovsep (1830-1908), Kevork (1839-1918) - formed unquestionably the most important photography studio in the Ottoman Empire. In 1856 Viçen (herewith pictured) took over the studio of the German chemist Rabach, who for two years had been working with Daguerreotype in his photographic studio at Beyazit. Cosmi Abdullah sold this studio to Nicolas Andriomenos and Viçen together with his brothers founded the 'Abdullah Frères' firm in 1858. The Abdullah Frères studio was situated in Pera, the district of the imperial capital most closely in touch with the Western way of life. There hundreds of young photographers received their early training. In guide books of the time, the Abdullah Frères studio was recommended to tourists visiting Istanbul, along with such famous city sights as the Bosphorus and historic monuments like Haghia Sophia. The Abdullah Frères gained their first great success abroad with the photographs exhibited in the Paris International Fair, to which Sultan Abdülaziz had been invited as guest of honour. In 1863 they took a portrait of Sultan Abdülaziz for a medallion, which was struck by the Empress Augusta of Germany. The sultan issued an edict awarding them the title of 'Imperial Photographers to the Court', a title that they retained during the reign of Abdullamid II. Having a reputation for taking the Sultan's portrait, their work became particularly attractive expensive. The Abdullah Frères studio grew with commissions by the Sultan to record sites around the Ottoman Empire.

The Abdullah Frères took portraits of many famous figures who visited the Ottoman Empire, and in 1886 at the request of Tevfik Paşa, khedive of Egypt, they opened a branch studio in Cairo. In 1890 they were awarded the title of 'Photographer to the Royal Family' by the Prince of Wales. The Cairo branch closed in 1895 and soon afterwards Abdullah Frères sold the Istanbul studio, together with all its apparatus, to Sébah & Joaillier for 1,200 Ottoman liras in order to meet their debts. The Abdullah Frères were masters in the skilful use of lighting in studio photographs. Their portraits were true reflections of the character of the sitter. They took portraits of aristocrats and seamen, princes and fishermen, kings, queens and famous people. The Abdullahs displayed the same success in open-air photography. Their photographs included various landscapes, buildings such as palaces, pavilions, mosques, fountains, churches, dams, aqueducts, factories, barracks, the Friday processions, dervishes, shopkeepers, street vendors and citizens in their local costume.

It is worth noting that Viçen, who was of Armenian origin, late in life converted to Islam and took the name Abdullah Şükrü Effendi. One consequence of this conversion was that he was almost completely ostracized by his former community, with the result that in many 20th century publications about Abdullah Frères, Viçen is glossed over if not completely ignored. [Bahattin Öztuncay 2003, p.179]

[Megakles Rogakos 03/2005]

ÖZENDES, ENGIN The Second Ottoman Capital Edirne 1999 Yem Yayınları, İstanbul
ÖZENDES, ENGIN Photography in Turkey 1999 Tarih Vakfi
ÖZTUNCAY, BAHATTIN The Photographers of Constantinople: Pioneers, Studios and Artists from 19th Century Istanbul 2003 Yapı Kredi Yayınları, İstanbul