Images of the Ottoman Empire: the photograph albums presented by Sultan Abdulhamid II
Muhammad Isa Waley
ONE of the treasures of the British Library's Turkish collections is the magnificent set of fifty-one ornately bound albums, containing in all over i,8oo photographs (albumen prints), which the Ottoman Sultan Abdlilhamid II presented to the British Museum in 1893 and were received in 1894. (An almost identical set was given to the United States Library of Congress in the same years.) The contents represent a carefully picked selection from the vast photographic collection amassed by the Sultan, whose complete archive of over 33,000 prints is preserved at the Istanbul University Library. The gift was designed to show the Sultan, sovereign of a still considerable territory with a great history, as a reforming and enlightened ruler. Abdlilhamid II was an extraordinary figure and can be seen from many different viewpoints. It is not always easy for the reader to believe that the comprehensive character assassination by Sir Edwin Pears, the slightly romantic, perhaps over-protective account by Joan Haslip, and the quasi-hagiography by the Turkish writer Necip Fazil Kisakurek all really concern the same man. In fact, there is abundant scope and material for further research on the Sultan and the events of his reign, which lasted from 1876 to 1909. His photographs will surely play a part in that process.