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  Sebah & Joaillier, Photographers

Sebah & Joaillier, the foremost Middle Eastern photographic firm of its time, began with Pascal Sebah, whose native origin remains a mystery (although some historians contend he was Armenian). He opened his “El Chark” (“The Orient”) studio in Constantinople (now modern-day Istanbul), along the Grande Rue de Pera shopping district, in 1857. At the time, Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire capital, was the center of Western fascination, and the region was dubbed “the Orient” by European visitors. Immediately recognizing the commercial potential of the popular vacation destination, the master photographer wasted no time in courting the many tourists. Ensconced within his extravagant Grande Rue de Pera studio, Mr. Sebah quickly established himself as one of the area’s most gifted and successful portraitists. He captured striking images of the colorful locale, the city’s many majestic buildings, and locals proudly adorning elaborate regional costumes. With a portrait painter’s discerning eye, Mr. Sebah posed his sitters carefully, used effective lighting, and produced the highest quality prints with the capable assistance of his chief technician, Frenchman A. Laroche.

Ever the astute businessman, Mr. Sebah established a lucrative partnership with Osman Hamdi Bey, who would pose exotically costumed subjects for the photographer, and many of Mr. Sebah’s photographs were utilized in Mr. Bey’s oil paintings. On behalf of the Ottoman court, Mr. Bey commissioned Mr. Sebah to produce a series of photographs featuring boldly costumed models. The resulting album was entitled Les Costumes Populaires de la Turquie, and received a gold medal at the Vienna World’s Fair exhibition in 1873, as well as a medal from Ottoman Empire Sultan Abdulaziz. Buoyed by his success, Mr. Sebah opened another gallery in Cairo, Egypt. An 1875 portrait of two Armenian gentlemen is representative of Mr. Sebah’s artistry and attention to detail. The men proudly pose in traditional attire that had been thoroughly researched by studio assistants to accurately portray their particular ethnic and cultural identity. The manipulation of sepia tones allowed the photographer to vary light and shadow for maximum effect.

After Pascal Sebah’s death from a cerebral hemorrhage on June 15, 1886, his brother Cosimi assumed studio operations for a few years. Pascal’s son Johannes (Jean-Pascal) began his photographic apprenticeship at age 16. He teamed with French photographer Policarpe Joaillier, which necessitated a name change to Sebah & Joaillier. Portraits from this period bear various insignias, including P. Sebah, J. P. Sebah, or Sebah & Joaillier. The firm became official photographers of Sultan Murad, and served as the Ottoman Empire’s foremost documentarian of North Africa.

In 1900, Sebah & Joaillier purchased Abdullah Freres’s photographic firm in Constantinople, which continued operating under its original name. After Mr. Joaillier’s departure a few years later, the junior Sebah operated the branches with partners Hagop Iskender and Leo Perpignani. Mr. Perpignani left in 1914, and upon the retirements of Mr. Sebah and Mr. Iskender, Sebah & Joaillier was entrusted to Mr. Iskender’s son Bedros and his partner, Ismail Insel. Jean Sebah died on June 6, 1947 at the age of 75. When Mr. Insel became the sole partner of the business, he renamed it Foto Sabah, which ceased operations in 1952.

2017 1870 / Young Turkish Woman (URL:

2017 Armenians and Armenian Photographers in the Ottoman Empire (URL:

1905 The Art Journal (London: Virtue & Co.), p. 315.

1914 Bulletin of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia, Vol. XII (Philadelphia, PA: Geographical Society of Philadelphia), p. 168.

2015 The City in the Muslim World edited by Mohammad Gharipour and Nilay Ozlu (New York: Routledge), p. 177.

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1260-1261.

2014 Exploring Deserts by Karen Sirvaitis (Minneapolis, MN: Abdo Consulting Group, Inc.), p. 55.

2004 Hagia Sophia, 1850-1950: Holy Wisdom Modern Monument by Robert S. Nelson (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press), p. 99.

2017 On Mount, Verso: Interior of San Sophia, Stambul (URL:

2017 Pascal Sebah by Gary Saretzky (URL:

1900 The Photographic Dealer, Vol. VIII (London: Photographic Dealer, Ltd.), p. 99.

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