Artamonoff: Picturing Byzantine Istanbul, 1930-1945

Aly DesRochers’ Blog

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to return a photograph collection to the city in which it was made and the city that it documents. Nicholas Victor Artamonoff captured over 1000 images of Istanbul from 1930 to 1945, while he studied, lived, and worked there. Artamonoff was inspired by the many diverse aspects of Istanbul: from the imposing Byzantine churches to the smallest details of architectural sculpture, from bustling marketplaces filled with goods to the diligent work of lone craftsmen, and from expansive cityscapes to portraits of Istanbulites themselves. It was such an honor not only to share Artamonoff’s photography with the city that was so dear to him, but to also follow in his footsteps with my own camera, walking the same streets and seeing the same sights. 

View of Galata Bridge towards Eminönü, c. 1930s-1940s

View of Galata Bridge towards Eminönü, June 2013

When he immigrated to the United States in 1947, Artamonoff brought his beautiful photographs along and eventually deposited them at two Washington, DC, institutions: the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) of Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection and the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives of the Smithsonian Institution. My work with the Artamonoff Collection began in February 2011 when I became an intern at ICFA. I was introduced the these amazing photographs, which the staff had only recently rediscovered in the backlog, and began identifying and cataloging the images, from which I built a digital archive of the collection using Omeka.

Picturing Byzantine Istanbul, Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations, Koç University, June 2013


When my colleague on the project, Günder Varinlioğlu, received a fellowship at the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civlizations (RCAC) for the academic year 2012-2013, she proposed an exhibit of the Artamonoff Collection. After months of preparation and a busy week of fabrication, Artamonoff: Picturing Byzantine Istanbul, 1930-1947opened on June 26 at RCAC in cooperation with the Third International Sevgi Gönül Byzantine Studies Symposium. Nicholas V. Artamonoff’s photographs are on display just minutes from the monuments, sites, and streets that he captured with his camera. Many of his subjects are very different today in the much changed city, and some no longer exist, so the Artamonoff exhibition serves as a contrast and reminder. With the urban development of Istanbul being such a contentious topic lately, Artamonoff’s photographs provide visual testimony of the city’s dramatic evolution over time.

Picturing Byzantine Istanbul, Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations, Koç University, June 2013

Since returning from Istanbul, I have been busy preparing a digital version of the exhibit to be featured on the digital archive site in order to share the exhibit with a broader audience outside of Istanbul and beyond its closing date of October 6. Coming soon!

Special thanks to the NYU Archives and Public History Department for supporting this project through the Demakis Gellar Grant.

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