Speaker Series | Zeynep D. Gürsel "A Picture of Health: The Search for a Genre to Visualize Care in Late Ottoman Istanbul"


This paper addresses a specific photographic album from the 1890s found in Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamit's palace archive which shows female patients of the Haseki Women's Hospital after they have regained their health.  These formal portraits show each patient modestly dressed in hospital issued uniform yet baring her abdomen to show a surgical scar.  In a specimen jar on the ornate table each woman leans on is displayed the tumor removed by the gynecological surgeon.  How might we make sense of the surgeon's signature on each plate (and differently on each abdomen in the form of a scar) despite the images having been made by a prominent studio photographer?  How does this album requires us to rethink agency in photography?  How do we make sense of these images displaying that which was once internal to these women to themselves, the surgeon and the sultan?  Does the appearance of these images in an album at the palace collapse traditional differences between medical and political imaging technologies? How is care being visualized and to what political end?  What kinds of relationships are materialized in this album?
The photo albums of Ottoman sultan and Islamic leader Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) who dispatched photographers to four corners of his empire contain some 35,000 images.  This visual archive documents state projects such as military and government buildings, hospitals, factories, massive engineering projects, schools, mosques and cityscapes, and includes a large collection of police photographs.  The sultan’s collection also contains albums sent to him by diplomats, foreign heads of state and individual foreign and Ottoman subjects, including doctors.