Pascal Sebah (1823-1886) was a leading photographer in Constantinople, now the city of Istanbul. Constantinople, composed of many diverse peoples, was the capital of the Ottomon Empire and Sebah's career coincided with intense Western European interest in the "Orient," which was viewed as exotic and fascinating. Constantinopolitan photographers, such as Sebah and Abdullah Freres, 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. Sebah 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.
Sebah'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 Sebah to photograph. The painter then used Sebah'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 Sebah to produce large photographs of models wearing costumes for a sumptuous album, Les Costumes Populaires de la Turquie. The album earned Sebah a gold medal, awarded by the Viennese organizers, and another medal from the Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz. In that same exceptional year, Sebah opened a branch in Egypt. Sebah's prints are signed P. Sebah.
After Sebah's death, his brother Cosimi ran the studio for a few years. Sebah's son, Johannes (Jean) became involved in the business in 1890, when he was only 16 years old. In that year, Jean formed a partnership with a Frenchman, Policarpe Joaillier, and thereafter the studio was known as Sebah & Joaillier. Some images by Jean are signed J.P. Sebah on the negative, as he began putting his initial in front of his father's. Others from this period are signed Sebah & Joaillier. Joaillier returned to Paris in the early 1900s, but Jean Sebah continued the studio, forming a partnership in 1910 with Hagop Iskender and Leo Perpignani. The latter left the firm in 1914. Jean Sebah and Hagop Iskender retired in 1934, leaving the business to Iskender's son, Bedros Iskender and his partner, Ismail Insel. Ismail Insel eventually became sole partner and renamed the studio Foto Sabah, which remained in business until 1952. [Sabah means "morning" in Turkish.] With all the changes, the studio that Pascal Sebah began in 1857 lasted 95 years.
Pascal Sebah died on June 15, 1886, and, since he was a Catholic, was buried in the Latin cemetery in Ferikoy. His son, Jean, is also buried there. Jean died on June 6, 1947, at the age of 75.
The above account is based on Engin Ozendes, From Sebah & Joiallier to Foto Sabah: Orientalism in Photography (YKY: Istanbul, 1999).
J.P. Sebah, Barrage (Panorama of two images), No. 221.
Sebah & Joaillier, Fountaine du Sultan Ahmed, No. 164
Sebah & Joiallier, Tour de Galata, No. 189.
Pascal Sebah, Group of Syrians
J.P. Sebah, Bas Relief, Abydos Temple, Egypt
J.P. Sebah, Statue of Ramses II at Luxor
Sebah & Joaillier, Castle of Europe on the Bosporos
Sebah & Joaillier, Sarcophagi of Sultan Mahmud II and Sultan Abdulaziz
Sterzl Family Photos by Sebah and Sebah & Joiallier