Pascal Sébah is a leading figure of Orientalism in photography. He came into the world in Constantinople - now the city of Istanbul - on a day in 1823, fourth child of the Syrian Catholic Hanna Sébah and the Armenian Lisa Hichaftadjan. In 1857, at the age of 34, he opened a photographic studio at 10 Tom Tom Sokaği, the street where the Austrian Post Office was situated and which was the continuation of the Rue de Postes. He called his studio 'El Chark Societé Photographic'. The main street of Péra being highly commercial, he opened a new studio as soon as possible at 232 Grand Rue de Péra. In 1860 he moved up the road to 439, next to the Russian Embassy, and employed a Frenchman named A. Laroche to run the studio. Meanwhile the original studio on Tom Tom Sokaği remained open, and in later years was used as a sophisticated laboratory. Early on Sébah's skills as a photographer earned him a reputation in Istanbul, and in 1859 the Societé Française de Photographie in Paris awarded him a medal for his work.
Constantinople, composed of many diverse peoples, was the capital of the Ottoman Empire and Sébah's career coincided with intense Western European interest in the 'Orient', which was viewed as exotic and fascinating. Constantinopolitan photographers, such as the Abdullah Frères and subsequently Sébah, 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. Sébah 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.
Sébah'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 Sébah to photograph. The painter then used Sébah'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 Sébah to produce large photographs of models wearing traditional costumes for a sumptuous album, Les Costumes Populaires de la Turquie. The album earned Sébah a gold medal, awarded by the Viennese organizers, and another medal from the Ottoman Sultan Abdülaziz. In that same exceptional year, Sébah opened a branch in Egypt.
Pascal Sébah died on 25 June 1886 at the age of 63, and, since he was a Catholic, was buried in the Latin cemetery in Ferikoy. His son Jean is also buried there.
[Megakles Rogakos 10/2005]
ÖZENDES, ENGIN From Sébah & Joaillier to Foto Sabah: Orientalism in Photography 1999 Yapı Kredi Yayınları, İstanbul
ÖZTUNCAY, BAHATTIN The Photographers of Constantinople: Pioneers, Studios and Artists from 19th Century Istanbul 2003 Yapı Kredi Yayınları, İstanbul