December 8, 2023

By Ismail Veli………

Tancrède R. Dumas 1830-1905

Ottoman society was as racially mixed as Europe is today. Society was fluid and advanced on merit. Unlike Europe in the 1800’s who were generally more prejudiced against  individuals from other communities, this was generally on a smaller scale in the Empire.

Tancrède R. Dumas

Taking aside the growth of nationalism and constant wars so common in that century, one thing that stands out is the extreme tolerance of ordinary people towards their neighbours. Sadly this does not always reflect in historic writings which often highlight the negative aspects of Ottoman society, to which there was much to be critical of. We are all aware of massacres, recriminations and upheavals of the empire, but this is not what this article is about. The lot of the ordinary ethnic Turks/Muslims however was often no better than other ethnic groups or Christians. From the chaos of the period many great  photographers regardless of their religion or ethnicity made their mark on history and were by and large respected equally by all segments of Ottoman society.

In this article I will share some of Tancrède R. Dumas’s contributions in this field. Dumas was a Frenchman with a background in banking. He chose photography as a profession, which he learned in Florence, Italy. In 1860 he moved to Beirut, and later to Istanbul in 1866 where he opened a photo studio. He particularly specialised in scenery and panoramic views. On 1st April 1877 he published four album volumes of photographs from across the Ottoman empire. These included Egypt, Syria, Palestine,Greece, Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Constantinople.

Rhodes. Tancrède R. Dumas. 1885

The photos ranged from 28×32 cm to 65-90 cm in size and each album was sold either by outright cash or instalments.  His albums and the quality of his  photos were so outstanding that his popularity became widespread. With about 100 photos of so many different parts of the Empire, many saw the images of a wide selection of different ethnic groups and sceneries which they knew little about. The amazing quality and variety of his work is still astonishing by today’s standards. His photos of local indigenous people in particular are astonishing. Without these our intimate knowledge would no doubt be less than what it is. One of his photos that particularly touched me was the image of a blind person carrying a disabled man with a deformity on his shoulders. This was taken in 1889. The Arabic and African women in his photos are particularly amazing.

Unfortunately later in his life  around the late 1800’s to 1900’s he returned to banking. This was short lived however as he died in 1905

Perhaps it’s best to let his photos do the real talking. Due to limitations, I have selected only a few from his immense range. I’m certain however that many readers will search and find so much more than I am able to share in this article. If they do, then I will feel content that I have achieved my aim which is simply to raise awareness on this amazing man’s talent for photography to which we are eternally grateful.

Beirut – Two Arab dragomen enjoying a meal. Tancrede Dumas
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