Film Screening: Through Ottoman Eyes

Film Screening: Through Ottoman Eyes

Friday, 18 May 2018 - 5:00pm
Investcorp Auditorium, Middle East Centre, St Antony's College
Umran Safter (Director)
Emre Caliskan (St Antony's)
Hande Yalnizoglu (St Antony's)
Ezgi Basaran (St Antony's)
MEC Seminar

It was the most complex of times… assassinations … insurrections... paranoia … and a sultan who had to rule amidst it all. Why would a sultan confine himself to a palace for 33 years? Could an empire be governed through photographs? Through Ottoman Eyes is a visual documentation of one of the most controversial Ottoman sultans, Abdulhamid II - and how he stayed in power for 33 years, governing an empire through photographs. Was Abdulhamid a hard-core traditionalist or had his experiences in Europe changed his worldview? The question is still up for debate.

Through Ottoman Eyes is also the story of the magnificent Yildiz Palace photography collection that was created as a result of Abdulhamid’s fascination with photography. The film takes viewers on a journey back in time to the 19th century, and introduces them to never-shown-before photographs. The Yildiz Palace photography collection comprises 911 albums containing 36,585 photographs. It makes for a unique and extraordinary historical treasure. The collection came about due to the patronage of the sultan who widely used the power of photographs during his 33-year reign. A sultan whose reported view on photographs was: “Every image is an idea. One image can portray the political and emotional sensations that a 100-page document would fail to do.” It was through photographs that he was able to keep informed about the goings on in all corners of his empire while also being one of the first to employ it as a public diplomacy instrument. Through Ottoman Eyes looks into how these photographs were commissioned and taken, who took them and how the album was created.It also delves into why Abdulhamid was so interested in photography and who the prominent photographers of that age were. Photography expert Kamil Firat helps talk us through the various photographs and the stories behind them as the film examines the works being preserved at Istanbul University’s Library of Rare Artefacts.

It was filmed on location in Istanbul, Paris, London, Washington, New York and Los Angeles. The film speaks to renowned global art historians, photographers and historians about the collection and Abdulhamid’s reign.

About the Director:

Umran Safter is an award-winning producer, director and journalist. She has been involved in the making feature-length documentary films since 2015. The primary focus of her films is the history of multiculturalism in Turkey and its continuing – albeit largely disregarded - impact. In this film we are about to watch, she explores how an Ottoman sultan’s introduction to photography during a trip to Europe impacted the way an empire was run; and how it pushed him to use photographs as an instrument to better engage with the Western world.    
Her first feature documentary film, The Eye of Istanbul, won the Best of Fest award at the Washington DC Independent Film Festival in 2016. The film depicts the life and work of renowned Turkish-Armenian photographer Ara Guler, who allowed the world a glimpse into modern Turkey. Another film directed and produced by Umran is Sevan the Craftsman: Breathing Istanbul’s Magic into Jewels. It tells the rags-to-riches story of a Turkish-Armenian jeweller who draws inspiration from the multicultural treasures of Istanbul and reflects the city in his world-renowned creations.  As a journalist, Umran has been covering Turkey and the Middle East for two decades. She started her career in journalism in 1996 and has worked as correspondent and editor.