February 25, 2014, 5:00pm
“The Motive Behind this Portrait”: Stabilization, Social Transformation, and Ottoman Arab Photography
Presenter: Stephen Sheehi, University of South Carolina
Location: Stiteler Hall, Room B21, 37th Street between Walnut St. & Locust Walk

As the story goes, the famous Ottoman-Armenian photographers Abdullah Frères impressed Sultan ‘Abd al-‘Aziz with their skill by producing a flattering portrait after the Potentate’s first experience with a European photographer ended miserably. At the same time, Disdéri’s carte de visite portrait of Napoleon started “cartomania," the world’s first global phenomenon in visual culture.  Istanbul studios Abdullah Frères, Vassilki Kargopoulo, and Sébah  were followed by native owned studios in the Arab provincial capitals, most notably Jurji Sabunji, Kova Frères, and Garabed Krikorian. Like photography itself, studio portrait was rapidly acculturated into cultural and political life of the Empire, seamlessly interpellated by the ideology of al-nahdah al-‘arabiyah and the Tanzimat, the two intertwined juggernauts that  naturalized the tectonic social, political, and economic changes underwa  as a result of the region’s immersion into the world economy. “The Motive Behind This Portrait” discusses how the carte de visite  not only performed the national, class, and gender ideals of new “social groups” in Ottoman Egypt, Palestine, and Syro-Lebanon. On a materialist level, the portrait mediated and stabilized social relations between functionaries, emerging elites, organic intellectuals, and burgeoning citizens  through new circuits of political and economic sociability. As a copula where the juridical subject meets the new  nationalized, class, and gendered subject of biopower, the carte de visite was a stabilizing materialist object and semiotic text that instantiated the ideology of the era against a torrent of social and economic change.

Middle East Center and Department of Africana Studies