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Abdullah Brothers

Published June 11, 2019

Abdullah Frères, View of Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Constantinople, Turkey. c. 1895. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Abdul Hamid II Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-123456]

Three Ottoman brothers, ethnic Armenians, rose to international fame during the rule of Sultan Abdulaziz  (r.1861-1876). Viçen (1820–1902), Hovsep (1830–1908), and Kevork Abdullahyan (1839–1918) began as ‘touch-up’ artists at a photography studio in Constantinople. They sought more training in Venice and upon their return opened their own photography studio in the Pera district of Constantinople–an area most populated by Europeans. Now known as the Abdullah Frères (French for ‘brothers’), their primary client was the Sultan, who granted them the title of Court Photographers.  This boosted their fame among non-Ottomans; it became fashionable to have a photographic portrait by the Abdullah Frères. They prospered, to such an extent that they opened a second studio in Cairo.[1]

They are best known today for their photos of the Ottoman court, but they also photographed  international celebrities, such as Mark Twain, producing carte-de-visites–calling cards that were fashionable at the time. Their ‘realistic’ photographs were not always appreciated by their subjects; the acerbic  Twain stated that he might as well send out a photograph of the Sphinx, which, he said, ‘would look as much like him.’[2]

Their most significant Imperial commission was the oversight of the production of a ‘photographic record of the Ottoman State,’ a commission that resulted in an astonishing 51 volumes that contained photographs of landscapes, villages, and the diverse ethnic and religious population of the Empire. Particular emphasis was placed on state-funded schools, and state-sponsored infrastructure.  A copy was presented to the Library of Congress by Abdulaziz’s successor– the last Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid II.[3] Intended to document the progress toward ‘modernization,’ these photographs became instead a record of the last days of the Empire.[4]


[1] Özenden, Engin. Abdullah Frères. Ottoman Court Photographers, Yapi Kredi Art / Istanbul 1998.
[2] Schapell Manuscript Foundation, accessed August 2, 2019.
[3] Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Abdul Hamid II Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-123456]
[4] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. Abdullah Frères, photographes de S.M.I. le Sultan. LOT 11913, no. 38