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Getty Research Institute
Exhibition of 19th-Century Photography
Examines Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire

March 28 - June 28, 1998 at the Getty Center

Press Preview: Friday, March 27, 9:30 - 11:00 a.m.
Lecture: Thursday, April 16, 7:00 p.m.

March 12, 1998

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- For centuries the meeting place between "Orient" and "Occident," Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) has captured the imaginations of many in the West. Now, more than fifty 19th- and early 20th-century photographs of the city, from the Getty Research Institute's vast Pierre de Gigord Collection, will be presented to the public for the first time. Framing the Asian Shore: Nineteenth-Century Photographs of the Ottoman Empire opens March 28 and continues through June 28 in the Research Institute Exhibition Gallery at the Getty Center.

Dating from 1852 until the early 20th century, the photographs& - including works by James Robertson and Ernest de Caranza& - focus on the cultural and architectural transformation of what is now Istanbul, as well as on several ancient sites. These photographs serve as witness to a pivotal era in Istanbul's evolution: In the waning days of the Ottoman empire, the capital city (known then as Constantinople, after the first Christian Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire) was home to lavish public monuments and a strikingly diverse population. Highlights of the exhibition include Robertson's hand-tinted portrait of a "Turkish Woman in Outdoor Dress," who meets the camera's gaze through a veil parted across her eyes; two spectacular urban panoramas by the team of Sébah and Joallier; and an albumen print of a group at prayer inside the Haghia Sophia in all its 19th-century splendor (a former mosque and Turkey's greatest monument, today the building is undergoing much-needed restoration).

"We are pleased to be able to make available to the public this rich collection of historic photographs of the Ottoman Empire," said Salvatore Settis, Director of the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities. "In recent years, we have greatly expanded the reach of our collections to include areas of the Mediterranean that have had significant cultural contact and exchange with each other, such as southern Europe, North Africa, and regions of the Islamic world. We hope this exhibit will highlight our important holdings and encourage their use by the scholarly community, as well as attract a broader audience interested in the wide range of topics represented in the collections of the Research Institute."

Several distinct civilizations have contributed to Istanbul's rich history. Known today by its Turkish name, it was called Byzantium by the Greeks, who founded it in the year 660 B.C. In 330 A.D., Constantine proclaimed it the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and renamed it "Constantinople." It was the captial of the Byzantine Empire until 1453, except for the period of the "Latin Empire," when it was seized by Crusaders (1204& - 1261). Ottoman Turks captured it and made it their capital in 1453. After World War I and the founding of the Republic of Turkey, Istanbul ceased to function as the political capital. Nevertheless, it remains the largest and most important urban area in contemporary Turkey.

Historic Role of Photography
"Photography was a new art form in the mid-1800s," said Frances Terpak, Research Institute Collections Curator of Photographs, who organized the exhibition. "A number of Western photographers used it to explore, and to some extent, to 'capture' Constantinople." In addition to documenting an important era, Framing the Asian Shore illustrates how photography itself helped to shape Westerners' understandings of the city.

Photographs played an important role in transforming the Ottoman Empire and recording its history, functioning as unassuming promoters of Western capitalism as a result of their easy portability, their relatively low cost, and their seductive "realness." Photographs became both a means of marketing the "Orient"& - as a commercial port, trading center, market for European goods, and site for foreign investment& - and commodities themselves, sold by a large number of commercial photography studios and individual vendors.

Pierre de Gigord Collection
The photographs in Framing the Asian Shore have been culled from the collection of Pierre de Gigord, which the Getty acquired in 1996. Containing more than 6,000 images, the Gigord collection is one of the most striking visual resources available for the study of the history of the Ottoman Empire and its transformation into the Republic of Turkey. The collection contains the work of more than 30 identified photographers including Robertson, the first resident photographer to document the city of Constantinople; Ernest de Caranza, Pascal Sébah, Abdullah Frères, and Guillaume Berggren. Thirty different photographic studios are represented by their cartes-de-visite.

The exhibition, which also includes lithographs, engravings, glass plate positives, and ceramic tiles, is organized in five sections. The first section focuses on Constantinople and the Bosphorus, and features large panoramic views of the city and its monuments, including the Haghia Sophia, along with more intimate portraits of its citizens, mosques, marketplaces, and homes. The exhibition continues with sections on "Archeology," "Peoples and Trades," and "Early Photography." These last two sections highlight Constantinople's great cultural diversity, through portraits of Armenian, Albanian, Serbian, Nubian, Persian, Muslim, and Jewish peoples, along with such Europeans as the "Staff of the Italian Consulate" and a "Franciscan Friar" who were friends of the photographer James Robertson.

The Research Library's Special Collections
The Research Library of the Getty Research Institute contains materials relevant to the history of art, architecture, world cultures, and disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. The Institute's Special Collections and Visual Resources contains rare books and archival materials for the study of the visual arts and culture. Included are artists' journals and sketchbooks, albums, architectural drawings, art and architectural treatises, early guidebooks, unique photographs, emblem books, festival books, prints, and drawings. Specialized photographic resources focus on festivals, travel, international expositions, colonialism, architecture, and urban development.

The collections of the Research Institute are presently shaped by seven categories:

  • Cross-Cultural Exchange
  • Visual Communication and the Culture of Images
  • Ritual, Performance, and Spectacle
  • Processes of Conception and Production
  • Art and Science
  • History of Collecting and Display
  • Cultural and Social Debates

The Gigord Collection comes under the first two categories.

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