Istanbul’s mosaic at the turn of the 20th century. The Sismanoglio Megaro of the Consulate General of Greece in Istanbul hosts, from 15th of May to 20th of June, a large collection of photographs that capture countless aspects of the most fascinating city in the world at the beginning of the 20th century. To present these photographs is a simple, yet at the same time complicated matter. Simple, because the collection pleasantly seduces anyone who peruses it while following the enchanting pathways of a world that has great importance for Greeks. Complicated, however, the moment you try to decipher the collection, the moment you invoke reason to arrive at an interpretation. For the photograph, through the picture it presents, also reveals the person who took it.
In the present case, we are dealing with not one, but two photographers who belong to two different generations: Achilles Samandji, who took most of the photographs, and the best, in terms of their quality, and his daughter’s husband, Eugene Dalleggio d’Alessio, an amateur photographer.
Achilles Samandji was born in Istanbul in 1870 and left the city in 1936. He was without doubt a typical grand bourgeois of Istanbul and he served as the photographer of the Sultan and the Ottoman princes. He was, however, a cosmopolitan without a trace of Levantinism. Europeans and those who aspired to European modes do not appear before his lens, just as the westernising Pera is almost absent from his photographic collection. He undoubtedly adores Istanbul: the entire city, the multinational and multi-religious metropolis, the then many-faced city of ‘minorities’. He immortalises its buildings and its people, its general views, and its countryside, its Byzantine monuments but also political events that shook the city in the beginning of the 20th century. Istanbul seduced and guided him. The photographs thus become the city’s own internal monologue, its own reflection, with no other attempts at interpretation. It would be vain, therefore, to seek in the photographic collection the affectation and pretension of the orientalistes artists, who since they viewed things from a distance, remain essentially foreigners to the space they were attempting to describe. Samandji’s eye is spontaneous and internal, directed to an external world that is at the same time a familiar place for the soul. He was always completely genuine, and Istanbul unfolds before his lens exactly as it was.
Eugene Dalleggio, who belonged to the next generation, deliberately tried to save this heritage of memory. He gathered together his father-in-law’s photographic collection and added to it many of his own photographs. He made repeated visits to Istanbul down to the early 1960s, which rekindled his memories and gave them concrete form once more. In this way, he managed to rescue the memory of Achilles Samandji as an important artist, but also the memory of Istanbul itself, as it was in the last years of the Ottoman Empire.
Please check out samples from the exhibition on our page in flickr:
Address: Sismanoglio Megaro, İstiklal cad. No.: 60
Duration: 15th of May to 20th of June
Monday – Friday: 15.00 – 20.00
Saturday – Sunday: 12.00 – 19.00