Tucked away behind İstiklal Caddesi and a pair of towering wooden doors on the narrow Fish Market street (Balık Pazarı), the Armenian Church of the Three Alters (Üç Horan Ermeni Kilisesi) is surprisingly easy to miss.
However, over the next month the old building, which dates back over 200 years, will see a marked increase in its number of visitors with the opening of the “Kez Gı Sirem İstanbul/Seni Seviyorum İstanbul” (“I love you İstanbul”) photography exhibition opening on April 14 in the church’s Naregyan gallery.
Curated by Bursa-born Engin Özendes, the exhibition, which will display over 100 images and documents, will show how İstanbul has changed through the eyes of Armenian photographers, based on three different periods over the past 150 years.
The earliest photographs exhibited focus on a period dominated by the ethnically Armenian Ottoman Abdullah brothers, who were instrumental in the birth of Turkish photography, as well as the likes of Pascal Sebah (Sebah & Joaillier) Mihran İranyan, Aşil Samancı (Ateliers Apollon) and Boğos Tarkulyan (Photographie Phebus).
Özendes also presents an in-depth display of the post-1950 works of globally acclaimed İstanbul-born photographer, Ara Güler. Of Armenian ancestry, Güler’s striking İstanbul shots, such as that of Armenian fishermen at Kumkapı taken in 1952, have marked him as one of the foremost figures in international creative photography. A collection that represents the works of more recent and present day Turkish-born photographers, including Ani Çelik Arevyan, Garbis Özatay, Garo Miloşyan, Manuel Çıtak, Sarkis Baharoğlu, Silva Bingaz, Vasgen Değirmentaş and Yaşar Saraçoğlu, will also be showcased.
Curator Özendes explains that the importance of the exhibition lies in raising awareness of the strong Armenian influence in the birth of Turkish photography. “The 19th Century was a period when many young Armenians were sent beyond Ottoman soil to various parts of Europe for education. Here, arts institutes such as the Murad-Raphaelian in Venice were instrumental in schooling young Armenians in various art disciplines, including photography. These skills were then brought back to İstanbul, where many of the Armenians opened distinguished photography studios, most notably that of the Abdullah brothers. This was to be the main introduction of professional photography to Turkey, where the trade quickly filtered throughout İstanbul and wider Anatolia.”
The exhibition will be open to the public until May 8.