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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Turkish Women

Turkish woman, circa 1860-1870, by Abdullah freres.As an Archivist it is one of the pleasures of my job to work with the photographs in our collections. I catalog what information we can find, work with the digital files, and match up the images to the catalog records. Albumen prints specifically have always held a soft spot in my heart for their ability to exude romantic warmth. This quality, in part, can be attributed to the creation process of using an emulsion composed of light-sensitive salts of silver suspended in albumen (egg white) on paper. It is unfortunate to note that due to their creation process, they are inherently prone to deterioration exacerbated by light sources.

There are certain precautions you can take to slow the speed of deterioration, but most result in these beautiful prints being sentenced to spend the rest of their life spans in closed boxes. Only to rarely be pulled out for work, as opposed to being leisurely viewed by the throngs of admirers they deserve.

Although even I admit that a digital derivative of an albumen print is not an ideal replacement; at least it allows us to frequently look upon these poignant portraits and landscapes that encourage us to fondly daydream of eras long gone.

SIRIS (Smithsonian Institution Research and Information System) currently has 2,787 albumen prints digitized and available online. The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives currently is the third largest unit represented, having 510 albumen prints digitized and cataloged for online consumption.

These two images are by Abdullah frères (Abdullah brothers). Vichen, Hovsep and Kevork Abdullah were a family of Ottoman Armenian photographers, known by their French name Abdullah frères, who operated a studio in Istanbul from 1858 to 1900. In 1863 they became official royal photographers to the Ottoman Sultan. Take a look at Abdullah frères photography available from both the Freer+Sackler Archives and our sister unit the National Anthropological Archives.Turkish woman, circa 1860-1870, by Abdullah freres.

Due to the limited information on both the prints, they share the same title; identifying the nationality of the sitters, their gender, and the approximate date of the photograph being taken.

Turkish woman, circa 1860-1870.
Turkish woman, circa 1860-1870.

I hope you enjoy perusing the albumen prints in our collections. Maybe next time you take a picture with your digital camera you can switch it to Sepia mode, capturing some of your own modern day, romantic images.

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives

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