The History of Cypriot
Photography – Part 2
By Ismail Veli
The History of Cypriot Photography may imply that all the photographers were based in Cyprus, far from it. Some of the most amazing images of the Island were taken by international magazines like the National Geographic, and the Picture Post. Covering everything about this subject in an article is next to impossible. The best we can do is highlight a few figures and hope that it raises sufficient awareness for readers to search and find what they consider to be their own favourites.
John P. Foscolo a French Levantine is a legend of Cypriot photography. Born in 1850 on the Ionian Island of Zante he moved to Izmir where he began his professional photography. When the British took over Cyprus in 1878, with no professional photographers on the Island at the time he decided to move to Limassol. He was soon to become the official photographer for the British army. His first studio was at 98 Victoria Street in Limassol near Iphigenias Street. With Limassol in a period of massive growth he had the opportunity to capture this momentous period. Some of his most famous and enduring period of activity was from 1900-1920. He photographed numerous private and public events and was known as “the master”. His association with high society gave him the opportunity to take many images of social gatherings and outings involving scenic and other incidents of ordinary people. One of his most enduring legacies was the “Cyprus and her dream” which was a prize winning photo at the Athens exhibition of 1901.
Strangely the female in the photo was not a Cypriot but an Irish girl by the name of Morrison. Sadly in 1926 Foscolo had a stroke and decided to move to Italy to be with his son. He returned to Limassol in 1927, where he died the same year. Sadly much of his archives and photographs were lost and it’s only thanks to private collections that we are able to view the genius of J.P. Foscolo.
Amongst the earlier and most successful Cypriot photographers was no doubt Theodoulos Nikolaou Toufexis. Born in Nicosia in 1872. The name Toufexis derived from the grandfather’s trade which was making guns “tufek” in Turkish or “toufexis” in Greek. Foulis as he was affectionately called by his friends began his working career in glassware and hardware in the Ermou a main commercial street in Nicosia. It was very fortunate for us that he ventured into amateur photography. His talents however were anything but that of an amateur. In 1903 he ventured into producing postcards of the main towns. His images reflected more the way of life on a social basis rather than scenic. His post cards have given us an immense insight into the way of life of ordinary people.
No history of Cypriot photography can be mentioned without Leopold Glaszner. Born in Hungary of German descent in 1877, he grew up in Germany but his visit to see his father and family in Limassol in 1900 was destined to change the destiny of Cypriot photography. Though a musician by trade he was a self driven man with many interests including the ability to converse in 7 languages. Fortunately for us he chose photography. His first studio was opened in Larnaca and many images of the town are amongst the most popular images of his career. Strangely his enthusiasm as an electrician records that he was the first ever person in Cyprus to install electric doorbells in homes and hotels. In 1925 he ventured into the field of postcards and continued until 1935. All his cards were produced in Germany. Sadly by WW2 the postcard sales plummeted but he continued in photography until his death in 1965 at the age of 88.
Ahmet Sevki was no doubt the pioneer of Turkish Cypriot photography. Working as an optician he first examined a camera held by a British customer and asked if he could analyse its mechanical structure. Soon after he built a legged wooden camera with an eyeglass lens (This was related to Kadir Kaba the author of “The origins of Turkish Cypriot Photography” by I Erel in a personal communication). One of his first photos was of his mother Hatice Hanim.
Sadly much of his earlier work has been lost. After his marriage to his wife Ismet hanim he travelled all over the island to take photos of families, scenery etc. It’s thanks to the private collection of many TC families that Kadir Kaba was able to locate many of Ahmet Sevki’s fantastic photos. In fact he managed to keep his original camera in working condition right up to the 1950s.
My small list in this article in no way represents the amazing number of great photographers in Cyprus. As the list is infinite, to write about them all would take many articles, therefore I have selected some photos of the rest as part of the photo gallery with this article. No doubt all Cypriots owe a debt of gratitude to these great men who made the most of their profession in exceptionally difficult circumstances. it’s to them that we owe our knowledge of past images of not only Cyprus but above all our families. Perhaps they were not aware of it at the time, but their expertise, resilience and professionalism has been distributed in countless books and internet sites for all to enjoy and cherish. For that we are all eternally grateful.
To read and see more of “The history of Cypriot Photography part 1” click here
For Facebook users, please visit “Frozen Cypriots” page where you will see many more pictures plus a growing number of poems click here.