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Despite the growing literature on Ottoman photography, depictions of Mevlevis in particular continue to be considered a vestige of Orientalist thinking. The established narrative locates the images of Mevlevi dervishes alongside other ‘Oriental types.’ What is the raison d’etre of the photographs of Mevlevis, street vendors and artisans, all of which were either generated by an external eye (a Westerner) or by a local photographer? The resulting images were on high demand by market forces because they displayed cultural and religious authenticity fitting comfortably into the Orientalist configuration, from head to toe. I argue that this rather simplistic way of understanding needs to be reconciled with a less controversial narrative because it runs the risk of oversimplification of the complexities and nuances those images carry.
This paper starts by questioning the prejudices and gaps in current knowledge, offers a fresh look into the subject matter with the aim of offering a reassessment within the framework of mutual interactions between the Mevlevis and photography. More precisely, by connecting the issue to certain characteristics of the Mevlevi order, I will seek to explore the role of the dervishes in their visual representations as well as to scrutinize the multiple meanings of photography within the dervish communities.
Onur Öner received his PhD degree in History from Istanbul Şehir University in 2019. The title of the thesis is “A Collective Biography Study of Musicians from the Late Ottoman through the Early Republican Periods.” As a social historian, he has a keen interest in cultural studies.
Different forms of life narratives, Late Ottoman biographical accounts, and visual representations through photography, in particular, form the main areas of his academic interests. Dr. Onur Öner is an independent scholar and works as a content developer at TRT2. Among his recent publications are “Understanding social change: demographic analyses of musicians in late Ottoman Istanbul”, in Middle Eastern Studies (2021), DOI: 10.1080/00263206.2020.1858809, and “Music in Early Twentieth Century Istanbul: Reconsidering the Role of Private Music Schools”, in Archiv Orientalni, forthcoming in 89/1 (May 2021).