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Fruchtermann’s Postcards Windows onto the past
2003 / February

For Westerners the Orient was a mysterious world for centuries, and this mysterious and imaginary Western image of the East even has a name: Orientalism. The concept first took shape in the work of European painters, and it was through these paintings that European aristocrats and rulers made their first acquaintance with the East. Accounts by European travellers who travelled eastwards made their own contribution to this image, which with the development of photography and photographic printing techniques entered a new stage. Postcards became the most widespread vehicle of dissemination for these photographs, and undoubtedly the most notable figure in this field in the Ottoman Empire was Max Fruchtermann. Max Fruchtermann became the coutry'sa first photography editor and publisher. Born in Kalucz, a town on the frontier of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1852, he moved to Istanbul in 1867.

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Fruchtermann’s Postcards Windows onto the past
2003 / February

Two years later he opened a framing shop on Yüksekkaldirim Street, where there are still several framers today. In the course of his work Fruchtermann became aware of the huge demand for pictures of Ottoman sights and scenes, and in 1895 entered into an agreement with the Emil Pinkau printing house in Breslau for the production of the first picture postcards of Istanbul. The first series depicted Seraglio Point, the Galata Bridge and Galata Tower, Dolmabahçe Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque, Arnavutköy, Kuzguncuk, and figures including porters, water sellers, dervishes and fishermen. The enterprise took off, and his picture postcards of Istanbul and scenes from other parts of the country were soon being posted to the four corners of the world. The first series was followed by numerous others, and with his Gruss series printed by Fingerle Freudenberg in Rehydt, of which he sent examples in his correspondence with collectors all over the world, his reputation soared.

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Fruchtermann’s Postcards Windows onto the past
2003 / February
He went on to produce beautiful series depicting many Ottoman cities, including Bursa, Izmit and Trabzon. Fruchtermann became a rich man, but misfortune lay in store. The death of his wife in 1917 was followed by the loss of his fortune, as his war bonds and other investments became worthless with the defeat of Austria in World War I. Fruchtermann died a broken man in 1918 at the age of 65. The golden age of the postcard had gradually come to an end in a war-torn world, as the optimistic intellectual climate of the pre-war period, in which people had sought to get to know other countries and peoples, made way for disillusionment. Massive economic upheaval aggravated the prevailing pessimism, and naïve pleasures like postcards were pushed aside. However, the story of Fruchtermann's postcards was not yet at an end.
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Fruchtermann’s Postcards Windows onto the past
2003 / February

His son Paul continued to run the business, despite changed conditions, until his death in 1966, when his second wife Anna was obliged to close down the business. She sold off the stock - an estimated 600,000 picture postcards - stored in the attic of the shop to a junk dealer for just 2500 lira. It is popularly assumed that photographs reflect a realistic and objective view of the world. In fact the photographer has a degree of control over the finished photograph comparable in some respects to that of the painter, exercised by his selection of subject and scene, use of light, and printing techniques. In Max Fruchtermann's postcards we see the clear stamp of Orientalism in their subjective approach. Having taken this into account, however, these photographs remain of undeniable documentary importance, depicting historic buildings and monuments of Istanbul that have disappeared today, costumes no longer worn, and scenes now vastly altered. Looking back a century in time through these postcards is a moving experience, reminding us both of what has changed and what remains the same.

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Fruchtermann’s Postcards Windows onto the past
2003 / February

The importance of Fruchtermann's postcards is appreciated by collectors all over the world. Thousands of these postcards have now been published by Koçbank in three volumes, the result of intensive research involved in tracking them down in numerous collections. They cover the period from the late 19th to early 20th century, a time of dramatic social changes which influenced the daily lives of all the diverse ethnic and cultural communities of the Ottoman Empire. The albums are a fascinating window on to that period and a valuable documentary resource.

* Baris Dogru is a freelance writer

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