The invention of photography in the late 1830s revolutionised the ways in which travellers to the “Orient” could record – with an “artistic eye” – what they saw and imagined.
With the development of the daguerreotype in 1839 a relatively simple method of recording pictures was invented. The new technique – due to its unprecedented potential to record important events and encounters relatively instantly – was soon widely disseminated and used in a range of circumstances. Travellers, too, benefitted from this new technology; many – whether diplomats, scientists, explorers, early elite tourists, or indeed, artists – accumulated a large body of photos during their sojourns in the Arab and Ottoman world. Shots could be purely documentary, like the first ever panorama of Istanbul taken in May 1854, but others – most popular from the second half of the 19th century onwards – captured ethnographic subjects and “exotic” types to satisfy the Western interest in “Oriental” society and the “Other”. Curiosity, fascination, imagination and voyeurism drove some photographers; others created images driven by an imperialist ideology, designed to assure people back home in the West of their culture’s superiority and legitimate the right of the colonisers to rule over the colonised.