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Istanbul exhibit casts light on Ottoman photography

An Istanbul exhibit looks at the photographic albums that Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid sent to German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in an effort to entice Germany to invest in Anatolian railways.
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It all began in Germany last year, when the auction house of Reiss & Sohn put on offer some 200 lots of memorabilia from Otto von Bismarck's estate. Among the items were photographic albums presented to the German chancellor “by admirers and devotees from all over the world,” including from Ottoman lands. Indeed, a set of three folio-size red velvet volumes, inscribed with Sultan Abdulhamid's calligraphic monogram, or tugra, were acquired for the extensive private collection of the Turkish business titan Omer Koc.

The three volumes are the centerpieces of “Ottoman Arcadia: The Hamidian Expedition to the Land of Tribal Roots (1886),” an exhibition at the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations at Koc University in Istanbul. They are displayed in a glass case like crown jewels, while the folios, which were not bound, have been removed for display. The exhibit features some 150 extremely well-preserved, cardboard-framed sepia portraits and landscapes with handwritten notes in French and Ottoman. 

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