MESA Banner
From Ottoman to modern Turkish: Politics of Photographic Inscriptions
In this paper, through a series of portraits given or sent to one individual named Şükrü Bey in the late 1920s, I look at how the circulation of vernacular photographs helped to construct and disseminate the image of the new Republican citizen among family, friends, and colleagues. Inscriptions were central to the circulation patterns of photographs, contributing to memory-creation and identity-building processes among the new Turkish middle classes. They reveal the diverse functions of photographs as effective modes of communication, at times used in lieu of letters, circulated among not only families and friends, but also colleagues and acquaintances. With the transition from the Arabic to Latin alphabet, elaborate Ottoman phrases were replaced by simpler diction, disclosing the effects of the language reform that resulted in the homogenization of Turkish as a modern national language. Inscriptions demonstrate the vernacularization and secularization patterns of the early Republican era that emerged in the 1930s and that would characterize the circulation of photographs until the digital era. Taking the Şükrü Bey series as a starting point, this paper shows how middle-class Turkish citizens used photographic exchanges and inscriptions not only to build and share memories but also to promote a classed self-image. I analyze the complex networks in which photographic prints were circulated within and outside family circles, serving multiple functions as effective modes of communications. Through a detailed analysis of the linguistic patterns used in photographic inscriptions in the 1920s and 1930s, the paper reveals the political, social, and cultural significance of language in the making and dissemination of the modern Turkish identity.
Art/Art History
Geographic Area
Sub Area
19th-21st Centuries