several months ago Mrs Deane posted a very nice piece about my Sweet Nothings series in relation to the work of the the Abdullah Freres brothers.
There's a nice follow on to this too which I'll post another time.
Students, private school Mekteb-i Edeb-i by the Abdullah brothers
Another find in the Library of Congress is the Abdullah Frères collection, featuring school photographs which spontaneously nested themselves in the visual cortex (i don’t know if it exists, I am making this up as I go) between August Sander and Vanessa Winship’s series of Rural Schoolgirls from the borderlands of East Anatolia. The instantly striking difference between the two series of sweet nothings, as Vanessa calls them, is the interaction between the figures. In the 19th century, we see no bodily contact between the girls, placed side by side by the photographers, with many of them holding a book or paper in their hands. We learn nothing of their friendships, as we do in Winships portraits, and where the ‘school’ aspect is mostly indicated by the uniform dress they are wearing.
Students, private school Hadikatül-Maarif by the Abdullah brothers
It’s very tempting to talk about a shift in presence manifesting itself in these two bodies of work, comparing the contemporary girls with those from the Ottoman generation. However, we cannot assume that the abyss we feel is separating Abdullah’s portraits from Winship’s Sweet nothings, is of an existential nature and only concerns the subjects of the photographs. What’s more, we cannot even assume that felt abyss is actually there; it might be nothing but a feeling, conjured up by the differences between photographic techniques and visions applied.
Students, art school for girls Üsküdar Kiz Sanayi Mektebi by the Abdullah brothers
But what is funny, is that in the end it was Winship’s series having imprinted itself so strongly on my visual cortex which has sensitized me to these vintage school girl portraits. In a way, her images have actualized the work of the Abdullah frères, made it accessible for me in a new way. That is an aspect of photography, and a potentially powerful one, which gets but little notice. So yes, the work of the Abdullah frères is the same it ever was, it’s the same but also different when viewed through the ‘Winship filter’.