Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A little bit of the Ottoman Empire in Chorlton in 1900 Women from Damascus

Woman from Damascus
It began as a story of one house in Chorlton with the odd name of Damascus House and has turned into a search for the work of Pascal Sebah.

The house was one of those big semi detached properties which was built sometime between 1893 and 1901.  It was surrounded by gardens on three sides and had ten rooms spread over three floors with cellars.

On the ground floor there were four large rooms and the kitchen, while on the first floor there were four large bedrooms, a dressing room and bathroom and three more double bedrooms on the second floor.

This was a tall solid property of the sort much sought after by the wealthy business and professional classes.

And it was the home of Abdallah Kabbaz who was there with his wife and two siblings from 1901 to sometime around 1911.

Mr Kabbaz had been born in Damascus in Syria and on the census return added that he was “a subject of the Ottoman Empire.”

Woman from Damascus
At one time the Ottoman Empire had been a major power controlling much of southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa.  It was a multinational, multilingual empire but one which by the 19th century was in decline.

And as I revisited the history of the Ottoman Empire I came across Pascal Sebah who was  a photographer specialising in recording the peoples and costumes of the empire.

He had been born in 1823 in Constantinople and his own background reflected the diverse character of the empire.  His father was a Syrian Catholic and his mother was Armenian.

He opened his first photography studio in Constantinople  and by 1873 was successful enough to open another studio in Cairo.

“Sebah's career coincided with intense Western European interest in the "Orient," which was viewed as exotic and fascinating. Constantinopolitan photographers, such as Sebah and Abdullah Freres, had a ready market selling images to tourists -- of the city, ancient ruins in the surrounding area, portraits, and local people in traditional costumes, often holding water pipes. 


Women wearing the tantur
Sebah rose to prominence because of his well-organized compositions, careful lighting, effective posing, attractive models, great attention to detail, and for the excellent print quality produced by his technician, A. Laroche.

Sebah's career was accelerated through his collaboration with the artist, Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910). Osman Hamdi Bey posed models, often dressed in elaborate costumes, for Sebah to photograph. 

The painter then used Sebah's photographs for his celebrated Orientalist oil paintings. 

In 1873, Osman Hamdi Bey was appointed by the Ottoman court to direct the Ottoman exhibition in Vienna and commissioned Sebah to produce large photographs of models wearing costumes for a sumptuous album, Les Costumes Populaires de la Turquie."*

And so after the next few weeks I rather fancy posting some of his pictures as a link with Abdallah Kabbaz and Damascus House.  These are taken from his collection shown in Vienna in 1873.

On the right: a peasant from the Damascus region.

Center: a Druze of Damascus wearing the Tantur, a cone shaped silver base that is usually covered with a veil.

The Tantur was helpful in exaggerating a woman's height.

On the Left: a woman  from Damascus wearing the qabqab, a wooden sandal with mother of pearl engraving used around the house and in the Turkish bath.” Ottoman Empire, Wikipedia,

Pictures; three women from Damascus, by Pascal Sebah, 1873




* Pascal Sebah http://gary.saretzky.com/photohistory/sebah/

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