Bi-resmi'z-ziyâ'i'I-acîb, Fe'I-habîb munîr lâ yagîb
Thanks to the wonder of light, the beloved is the light that
Polycarpe Charles Joaillier (1848-1904)
Pascal Sébah (?) (1823-1886)
Sébah&Joaillier Photography Studio
There are very few books about Sébah&Joaillier but there are a few articles on the internet. For sure these beautiful works intend to shed light on history, to commemorate and to understand the past with photos, and to keep the information alive. I would like to thank those who made these works.
My interest in my own genealogical tree and the uncovered aspects of the Joaillier side of my family, gave me the desire to share the results of my researches over the last few years and my large collection of Sébah&Joaillier digital photos. My physical collection will be evaluated on several other platforms.
Our family archives, documents from consulates, churches, cemeteries and other sources of information were the supports for the short history summary on this website.
I proudly undertake this work as the 5th generation grandson of Polycarpe Joaillier from my mother side.
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Following the first image taken by the French Nicéphore Niépce in 1826, photography progressed rapidly. The world's first photo/daguerreotype studios were opened in France in the 1840s. At that time, photography was only affordable for the middle and high-income groups because of its high cost. With the development of transportation and the generation of traveling photographers, this blend of commerce and art has rapidly spread to the rest of the world.
The discovery of the photography was announced to the Ottoman Empire on October 28th 1839 in the number 186 of Takvim-i Vekayi newspaper. Soon after the Tanzimat (reforms) in 1839, a certain number of the travelers settled in the Ottoman lands. It was a period when about 50% of the population in Istanbul consisted of non-Muslims. The rapid development of the photography in this land was inevitable due to a combination of factors such as the mystery, the fascination, the magic together with the Orientalism and its charm.
It is not surprising that some of the famous photographers were Levantines; after all, this new branch of art was discovered and developed in Europe. It is known that the first photoshoots during the Ottomans period were taken by Kompa, a student of the French Daguerre who had invented the Daguerrotype machine in 1842. The closest to the Western style was the Pera area in Istanbul, today's Beyoğlu district. Along the Grande rue de Pera, today known as Istiklal Caddesi, several photography studios were opened from 1850 onwards.
In addition to a few foreigners, Ottoman citizens with Greek, Armenian and Syriac origins also showed interest in this commercial art. They learned by traveling abroad and working with the travelers, following which some of them opened their own studios.
One of those studios is the Sébah&Joaillier studio, which survived for more than a century. In many history pages, it is known as the most famous photography studio and the most powerful representative of Orientalism.
This studio was founded in 1857 by Pascal Sébah, continued to serve until it closed its doors in 1974 under the name Foto Sabah.
Pascal Sébah was born in 1823 in Istanbul from a Syriac father and an Armenian Catholic mother. There were many non-Muslim families who used French names at that time. With his older brother Cosmi Sébah, they wondered about and worked on this new invention called photography. Two brothers opened their first studio on May 18th, 1857, under the name of P.Sébah Photographe at Tomtom Street No.10 in Pera. Although he doesn’t appear in official registers, a French photographer named Antoine Laroche is known to have helped them for several years.
In the early 1860s they opened a branch at Grande rue de Pera no.232, while the Tomtom studio continued to render service as a printing and negative studio. In 1866, when they opened another branch at Jardin des Fleurs between the UK Embassy and the Naum Theatre, they gave their place at no.232 to a photographer of Italian descent Tancrède Dumas, followed by a new studio 2 years later in 1868, next to the old Russian Embassy in Pera, today’s Russian Consulate, at no.439, the name of this large and magnificent place became then the famous "El Chark - Société Photographique".
The studio at Jardin des Fleurs was completely destroyed by the great Beyoğlu fire in 1870 and everything was burned.
In 1873 the brothers opened a branch in Cairo, Egypt. The same year, Pascal Sébah gained international recognition by taking the photographs published in the book “Elbise-i Osmaniyye” (Popular Costumes of Turkey) prepared by Osman Hamdi Bey and Marie de Launey for the Vienna World Fair.
In 1875, Cosmi brother opened his own studio and ended the brothers’ partnership. However, Cosmi could not leave important fingerprints on the history of photography.
Pascal Sébah was often ill, and while his work continued with hitches, another fire in 1881 destroyed many other works in the Tomtom studio. The same year, Sébah settled in Cairo for a period of time.
In 1883, he was paralyzed after a cerebral hemorrhage; he was no longer able to work. His children Josephina, Jean and Joseph were teenagers only. His brother Cosmi moved back in.
At this stage, the name of Polycarpe Joaillier (1848-1904) began to appear on the history pages. His father Antoine was born in Istanbul and his mother Catherine in Aleppo. Although there is no clear information about his grandfather Joseph, it is said that he took his surname because of his jewelery business in France, He then left the country during the revolution of 1789, he settled in the Ottoman city of Aleppo, was considered as a Levantine, and later he moved to Istanbul. The Joaillier family lived under the Ottoman Empire with a residence permit while being under the protection of France without having French nationality. The family was considered French by the Ottomans.
Sébah and Joaillier families knew each other well before the partnership. There are information and documents about the friendship ties between the two families as well as some facts. Polycarpe was only 7 years old when his father Antoine passed away at the age of 33 in 1855, he had two younger brothers. Since the 3rd generation of the Joaillier family was unable to work, Antoine’s sister, his wife and three sons could not generate income. Therefore, Pascal Sébah, a very close friend of the family, would have taken care of these people. Part of the Joaillier family lived in a flat at no.439 Grande rue de Pera where the Photography Studio was located. Polycarpe Joaillier, in addition to his education, learned the art of photography alongside Pascal Sébah. The two families were so close that on August 28th 1879, Pascal Sébah was one of the witnesses of Polycarpe’s wedding celebrated at the Büyükdere Nativity Church in Istanbul.
Following his illness, Pascal Sébah and his wife offered a partnership to Polycarpe Joaillier; whom they considered a true son. He had evolved well in photography and they believed that he would support their own son Jean who then was very young. Joaillier had a positive approach vis a vis Sébah who had taught him photography and had entrusted him with a business. In 1885 the partnership Sébah&Joaillier, pioneer of photography and Orientalism in the Ottoman Empire, was founded.
Compared to Sébah who was unable to work due to his illness, Joaillier's weight was already felt with an intensive work. It is also believed that during Sébah's illness, the person behind the Sébah signature was Joaillier himself. The similarity of the images of Sébah and Joaillier can be considered as the continuation of the Sébah school. The double signature on the photos did not bother him. Barely a year later, in 1886, Pascal Sébah passed away.
In 1889, the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II, during a visit to Istanbul, gave to Sébah&Joaillier the title of Prussian Palace Photographers after they took beautiful photos of himself with his wife.
In 1893, the Sultan Abdulhamid II sent photo albums to the United States, England and France with the objective of highlighting the place of the Ottomans in the world scene. Two of these albums were prepared by Sébah&Joaillier. They received the title Ottoman Palace Photographers.
In 1899, their rivals and well-known studio Abdullah Frères couldn’t withstand the competition in Pera, they sold their archives to Sébah&Joaillier for 1200 Liras and handed over their studio. After that date, behind Abdullah Frères’s footage there was mainly Sébah&Joaillier.
In 1904 Polycarpe Joaillier passed away in Istanbul. The sons of the two founding partners, Jean Sébah and Gustave Joaillier, endeavored to keep the studio standing for a while.
In 1908 Agop Iskender joined the studio as a partner.
In 1914, Gustave Joaillier relinquished his shares and left for France with his family, the Joaillier family's ties to the studio ended.
In 1934, Agop's son Bedros and Ismail Insel bought the shares and the studio's name changed to Foto Sabah.
In 1952 the studio moved next to the Atlas Passage in Beyoğlu.
In 1974, the studio closed.
Pascal Sébah was a master in theatrical portraits as well as cityscapes. His meeting with Osman Hamdi in 1869 became a major milestone in his career. In some of his drawings, the painter used photographs of the studio. After Pascal Sébah's death, his brother Cosmi had a role in the partnership, his son Jean Pascal was too young and was still an apprentice. Therefore, this partnership can be considered not with the famous Pascal Sébah, but between the Sébah family and Polycarpe Joaillier. We can conclude that many of the Sébah&Joaillier signed photographs were taken by Polycarpe Joaillier and should note that Sébah’s son became active a few years later. Jean the son has managed the Cairo branch, which was closed in 1905, and lived in Egypt for a while, using J.P.Sébah as a signature on his photographs.
Both photographers are buried at the Pangalti Latin Catholic Cemetery in Istanbul.
There is only one known portrait of Polycarpe Joaillier himself, which is the one placed on his tomb. A second portrait is kept in the family archives in order to be exhibited at a future date.
It is presumed that Pascal Sébah does not have a portrait of his own. However, in a French article, there is information that he is one of the persons in a photograph taken in front of the Ahmet III fountain at the entrance of the Topkapı Palace, where a person is sitting in western style clothes. It would be reasonable to take a cautious approach regarding this claim and leave a question mark with it.