Between the abstraction of miniatures and the literalism of photography

Amateur erotica in early twentieth-century Turkey

  • İrvİn Cemİl Schick
Keywords: Ottoman Empire, Turkey, erotica, pornography, manuscripts, vernacularization


Ottoman visual culture has produced a fair amount of sexually explicit material, particularly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Eighteenth-century examples owe more to Islamicate visual traditions than to European influences, but the latter do become increasingly apparent during the nineteenth century. At the same time, such images display a distinct effort to localize and vernacularize, so that they are better described as the fruit of acculturation rather than pure imitation. As publishing enjoyed an upsurge following the restoration of constitutional monarchy in 1908, Western influences continued to make themselves felt. Texts and illustrations published during this period borrowed heavily from European, especially French, sources. By the 1950s and 60s, the visual language of erotica had become far less complex and far more literal, particularly with the proliferation of photography and film. An interesting corpus of ‘home-made’ or ‘amateur’ erotica produced during the waning years of the Empire and the early Republic, in Ottoman script and with hand-drawn illustrations, stands between the abstracted, stylized and somewhat stilted language of miniature painting, and the orgy of visibility and ritualized literalism that characterizes contemporary pornography in its photographic and filmic expressions. Some examples of such works are given and discussed.