The Life and Times of Louis Saboungi
A Nomadological Study of Ottoman Arab Photography
'Photography', Geoffrey Batchen tells us, 'was a product of (and contributor to) certain shifts and changes within the fabric of European culture as a whole.' The comment seems almost a truism except for when the field of art history and photography studies places the onus on the scholars of the Middle East to somehow prove or disprove such an axiomatic claim. The challenge comes with a loaded question: how does looking at photography from the 'East' allow the photograph to be read differently? That is, if photography was a product of certain shifts in the fabric of European culture must photography not 'look' and be looked at differently in the context of the Middle East? The question, despite its intention, suggests an expectation that one must accept the 'difference' of 'non-Western' photography. It is imbricated within a complex ideological and epistemological juggernaut that searches for presumed exclusive codes structuring 'non-Western' photographic surfaces, which exist beyond the perspective of 'Western theory' and photographic history. If a photograph is to express a story of its local context, must that local context be different by merit of it being not of the western world?
Scholars such as Ali Behdad, Issam Nassar, Mary Roberts and others have started unfolding the assumed mutual exclusivity of 'Western' and 'Eastern' photography. They have matched the question of how do those from the 'East' look at photographs with incisive inquiries such as that posed by Greg Grandin: 'can the subaltern be seen' or, perhaps, more appropriate to this article, what can the subaltern see? Before delving further into the complexities of 'reading' Middle Eastern photography it is, therefore, essential to understand how indigenous photography of the nineteenth century Arab world cannot be separated from the era known as al-nahda al-'arabiyya (the Arab Renaissance), which unfolded within the larger Ottoman reform movement known as Tanzimat and Osmanlılık modernity. The Tanzimat, or Risorgimento, was the nineteenth century reform movement within the Ottoman Empire, starting with Sultan Mahmud II and ending with Sultan 'Abd al-Hamid (Abdülhamid), of whom we will hear more. The Tanzimat, or 'Re-beginning' is traditionally marked by the destruction of the Janissaries (known as the 'Auspicious Event') and the Gülhane Firman, which ushered in a series of legislative and legal reforms, including new land, civil and criminal codes. Osmanlılık or Ottomanism was the term used to identify the values and principles of this movement.
In the case of the Arab world, al-nahda al-'arabiyya, or what is commonly translated as the 'Arab Renaissance', was the civilization project embedded within Osmanlılık modernity. Within the context of the Tanzimat, Arab intellectuals in Beirut, Alexandria, and Cairo were formulating the role and reform of Arab society and identity in this 'new era', or al-'asr al-jadid. If any idiom represented the ethos of Ottoman modernity and al-nahda, it was 'civilization and progress' (al-tamaddun wal-taqaddum). This phrase and these goals structured virtually every cultural production of the era, mobilizing cultural acts in the cause of 'reform' (islah), unity, and social betterment. While what I term as nahda ideology shared with Osmanlılık ideology a common nomenclature of and formula for reform, it spoke specifically of Arab identity, Arab culture, Arab history, and Arab societies. While nahda writing was marked by a variety of competing, often opposing political positions, they all shared a concern with the local, thinking out Syrian or Egyptian identity in contrast to Turkish Ottoman identity. 'Arab photography', like all cultural productions, must be understood within the context of al-nahda, itself contingent on Osmanlılık modernity. It must be understood as a product of its own history.
This intelligibility – the process of recognition at the heart of the production, circulation, and display of the photograph – does not mean that the semiotic and ideological system of the photograph was singular, closed, or exclusive. Such an assumption is found, effectively, in questions that consider how 'Easterners' look at photographs. Rather, taking the intelligibility of the photograph as our starting point, we are forced to approach and acknowledge the surface of the image as its manifest content. The manifest surface of the Ottoman Arab photograph – what I have called the nahda photograph – clearly illustrates the ego-ideals of new social strata in Ottoman Syria and Egypt: namely a transformation of the peasantry, the nascent appearance of 'industrial' (or at least factory) working classes, and new effendiyya class, haute and petty-bourgeoisies, petits fonctionnaires, and repurposed notable classes. In this regard, the nahda photograph was a stabilizing force: a document that reproduced the ideology of economic, social, and political 'reform' (islah). It circulated among new types of individuals in order to shore up new sociabilities that otherwise displaced adjacent, pre-existing perspectives and discourses, which nahda and Osmanlılık discourses coded as 'backward'.
This article does not seek to ferret out lost histories and practices, while it may do so inadvertently. This is not because I do not ascribe to the existence of such alternate histories. They surely exist in forms that need to be further investigated. However, the paradigm that photography outside of the West is often constituted by ideological and cultural difference, and alterity needs to be tempered with the re-engagement of the hegemonic forces of global capitalism that endowed photography's transparency with unprecedented truth-value. This article seeks to consider how early photography in the Middle East operated on several semiotic, social, and historical layers. The photograph's manifest surface reproduced ideologies and performed or 'enacted' subjectivities that were congruent with the hegemony of nahda discourses (discourses of progress that covered every topic from child rearing, gender roles and governance to how to develop a photograph). I borrow the term enact (and enactment) from clinical psychology to build on the speech-act theory of performativity in order to fully illustrate how photography was a social and subjective practice that manifested a particular epistemology and perspective of modernity rather than specifically producing it.
If photography was a performance or enactment, then, simultaneously, the staging, performance, and language of photography also holds latent content; a history of how ideology became intelligible and how performative subjectivities carried value upon their enactment. This latent level, then, is a history of displacements, violence, and the arcane. Thus, this article explores how the performative nature of photography and of the nahda photograph – the ideology that it enacted – was charged to stabilize, or at least contain, the latent violence and displaced lived-experiences that haunted photography’s positivist representation.
A Tale of Two Brothers
If two poles, the manifest and the latent, mark the nineteenth century 'Arab' photograph, they are animated by the life and work of photographer Jurji Saboungi and his older brother, Louis, both born in Diyarbakir, or Mardin. The opposite trajectories of these two Saboungi lives mirror more than the careers each chose, rather reflecting the tension within nineteenth century nahda photography. Louis was the provocateur, opportunist, and intellectual-activist, gallivanting from adventure to adventure and opportunity to opportunity. Jurji on the other hand was staid and rooted: Beirut's most prominent photographer to Ottoman political and economic elites, Syria's 'middle stratum', the city's intellectual pantheon and most respected personalities and religious communities.
Some sources say that Jurji (1840–1910), also self-identified as Georges Saboungi. He opened his studio in Beirut in 1862, only two years after Trancrède Dumas – the first European to do so in the city. Fouad Debbas contends that Saboungi opened in 1878. He states that after apprenticing for years in the famed Beirut atelier Maison Bonfils, Saboungi assisted Félix Bonfils during his expeditions to Egypt and Palestine between 1867–1874. Debbas also contends that Saboungi opened in Sahat al-Qamh (Wheat Square) in Beirut after Félix returned to France because of health problems. No matter the date, Jurji certainly learned photography, at least initially, from his famed brother Louis in the early 1860s. Consequently, Jurji, according to Carney Gavin, 'effectively started the Lebanese photographic industry… an industry which solely relied on local photographers.'
Jurji was an uncontroversial fixture of photography in the Arab Ottoman provinces. While he maintained a thriving studio in Beirut, Jurji Saboungi was mobile throughout the Ottoman Empire and, perhaps, Europe. He married a Danish woman and opened a studio at Assour Square (Sahat al-Sur, named after the old city wall), next to the train station, which is now Place de Riad al-Solh. By the 1890s, his studio had moved to the Suq Sursock, in the shadow of the famous palatial maison of the Sursock family, built by Musa (Mousa) Sursock, a successful merchant, financier, and owner of latifundia throughout Syria. Eventually, Saboungi moved to the corner of Rue Syrie and Rue Lazarieh, in the centre of the city. His son, Phillip, joined him in 1908 and ran the studio until 1916, while Dalil Beirut (1909) also mentions a studio ‘Madame Philippe Saboungi’.
To further complicate the enigma behind the Saboungi name, not to mention its prevalence in photographic reproductions in Egypt and Palestine, there was also a photographic studio owned, at this time, by Philip J. Saboungi in North Star, an Ohio hamlet not far from the Indiana border. At the same time, Daoud Saboungi, apparently the younger brother of Louis and Jurji, had a successful studio in Jaffa, Palestine in 1892. He serviced the Holy Land tourist trade and frequently partnered with Jerusalem’s most prestigious commercial photographers Garabed Krikorian and Khalil Raad. He is best known because he, Raad, and Krikorian were hired to photographically document the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm Guillaume II and his wife, Augusta Victoria, to Palestine and Lebanon.
Despite the mystery surrounding the Saboungi name, Jurji Saboungi was an established photographer in Beirut, whose reputation was known throughout the Ottoman Empire. While Saboungi produced a prolific amount of portraits for Beirut’s populace, he was known not only for his landscapes and tourist photography but also for his cartes and portraits of leading Ottoman officials and Beiruti intellectuals. He himself held official roles in Beirut’s municipality and was awarded imperial medals in 1892 and then a higher status (to Second Rank) in 1898. In 1902, he was appointed as a customs inspector in Beirut. His official role as a municipal functionary and his close relationship with the Ottoman government illustrate the intimacy between photography and the State, as well as the intermingling and interchangeability of intellectuals, technocrats, and functionaries locally and regionally. Despite these connections, however, Istanbul denied Saboungi’s petition to open a photographic society, which would establish a ‘lottery’ (piyango) to help fund developing photography in the Empire.
Jurji’s life stands in stark contrast to the provocative, nomadic life of writing and photography led by his brother Father Louis Saboungi (Luwis Sabunji, 1838–1931). Throughout his polymorphous life, Louis remained a dedicated and skilled amateur photographer. Tarrazi states that Louis was the first ‘to introduce the art of photography (al-taswir al-shamsi) to Beirut, which was virtually unknown in the city at that time.' Louis invented two photographic apparatuses during his stay in Manchester; the patent of one was sold to the British ‘Stereoscopic Co.’ while his ‘Authomatic [sic] Apparatus’ received recognition from the French government.
We know far more about Louis than we do his younger brother. Louis went to study at the seminary in the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate in Mount Lebanon in 1850, after which he was sent to the College of Pontifical Propaganda in Rome in 1853, remaining there for eight years where it is assumed he learned photography. Returning an ordained priest, he is said to be among the first instructors at the newly established Syrian Protestant College, where he taught Turkish and Latin. Tarrazi states that he started and headed al-Madrasa al-Siriyaniyya (the Syriac School) in 1864. In 1870, he founded his renowned journal, al-Nahla (The Bee), which moved to London in 1877 where it became a provocative anti-Hamidian organ. Michel Fani suggests that Louis left Beirut in 1874 because of riots that destroyed his brother’s studio. While there is no evidence for this, we know that Saboungi’s life in Beirut was marked by enmities and rivalries with the city’s most renowned and established intellectuals, including both Butrus and Salim al-Bustani, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, and the Maronite Patriarchate. Ottoman authorities shut down his journal two times because it defamed these and other intellectuals, as well as members of the Maronite and Orthodox communities in Beirut. This is likely to be the reason for his eventual departure from Lebanon. After travelling the world, he ended up in Great Britain where he became professor of Arabic at the Imperial Institute in London in the late 1880s.
Following his time in in Beirut, Louis became enmeshed in the political machinations of the Ottoman Empire and Khedival Egypt, attacking the Sultan and agitating for Egyptian independence. He distinguished himself from his nahda peers by taking controversial political positions, most notably, questioning the Sultan’s centuries' old claim to the Islamic Caliphate. In turn, Louis is best known for his association to British anti-imperialist Wilfred Blunt. The former priest apparently is responsible for introducing Blunt to a myriad of dissidents, including Muhammad ‘Abduh and Muhammad ‘Urabi, who would lead the Egyptian Army against the British and the Khedive Tawfiq in 1882. Louis eventually was coaxed to move to Istanbul and was employed by his previous enemy, ‘Abd al-Hamid, with whom he worked quite closely until the Ottoman Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) revolution in 1908. Due to his Italian citizenship, he was able to flee Istanbul and emigrated to the United States, where he wrote under an Italianized version of his name, Giovanni Luigi Bari Saboungi. In addition to his travel account to Europe, Rihalat al-nahla, he left us quite a bit of writing, including an unpublished Diwan and his diary Yıldız Sarayında bir Papaz, (A Priest in Yıldız Palace). However, many of his publications have yet to be studied, and even discovered.
Louis illustrated his Diwan with a number of photographs and the various incarnations of his journal al-Nahla contained many photoengraved portraits and photographs as well as etchings of what clearly were his own political illustrations. To offset the cost of printing photographs, he sold two versions of the Diwan, only one of which contained photographs. His memoirs were found in Istanbul following his escape after the Young Turk Revolution, with a large number of photographs, many of which he produced. Before being published as Yıldız Sarayında bir Papaz in 1952, these memoirs were partially serialized in 1929 in the Turkish journal Vakit (not to be confused with Turkey’s current newspaper by the same name). Louis was not a fly-by-night dilettantish photographer; rather, photography was integrated into his life and work, if not serving what seems to be a degree of political opportunism as much as genuine political beliefs.
Saboungi gifted his Diwan, it is said, to the Khedive Isma’il, who had funded his journal, al-Nahla. This relationship is marked by the exchange of a book and a photograph. The gift and relationship confirm not only the circles and networks of power and politics in which intellectuals, activists, entrepreneurs, and, even, clerics and adventurers circulated and, largely, relied. But, also, the appearance of Louis’s portrait in his Diwan verifies that the discourses of reform and nahda cultural production were shored up by photographic illustration, by visual codes that were impacted by the established discourse on knowledge and progress, which one immediately identifies as a discourse of ‘civilization’ and modernity.
In his study of photography in Lebanon, Michel Fani states that, ‘the photograph is nothing but a supplement to this generalized bricolage of the self, lacking any real echo of society, or context, or respondent’. While the photograph certainly may supplement multiple forces that clash to generate new selfhoods in the nineteenth century, the lives and works of the Saboungis seem to demonstrate that the contrary is true; the photograph is precisely an ‘echo’ or after-image of social traces and shifts. This after-image, however, is also the after-image of transformation itself. This is not to read photography through the biography of its photographers or sitters. Rather, it is to recognize that the value of that particular social currency, attached to that particular product, is determined by its value within social and signification networks, within particular sets of social relations and ideology; in other words, as a product circulated within a social network of exchange and value. By the turn of the century, the world in which Louis was operating had started to change. After 1891, Louis remained under the charge of the Sultan and lived a comfortable life as educator, translator, and state intellectual. He leveraged his influence with the court to rehabilitate and capitalize on previous relations for economic gain, including acting as an agent for a British company to win concessions to build ancillary railroad lines in Lebanon and Iraq. After ‘Abd al-Hamid was deposed by CUP officers in 1909 he returned to Lebanon some 40 years after leaving it. Before that, his machinations with Blunt and his support of ‘Urabi ceased and, indeed, his support for the latter reversed course when he met ‘Urabi in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and disliked the General. His attacks on the Maronite Church and others in Beirut, let alone his close association with the now deposed Sultan, probably made Lebanon a danger or, at least, not a welcoming space to remain.
With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire came the collapse of Louis’s network of relations, ending his political and intellectual career if not also eradicating his photographic archive. While these relations radically shifted, as did his own political positions over 40 years, it took cataclysmic acts of ethnic cleansing in the case of Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians, and the rise of ethnic nationalisms to dismantle the Empire’s multicultural hardwiring. Between the CUP revolution and World War I, the Empire still offered the multilingual, ambitious, polyglot several opportunities. After spending World War I in Egypt, Louis emigrated to the United States via East Asia, embarking on a ship in Japan and disembarking in Seattle. Upon immigrating to the United States Louis attempted to capitalize on America’s Oriental and spiritualist craze, marketing his Eastern identity and writing on Eastern Christianity and spirituality but, detached from his previous social, political, and intellectual networks, he effectively disappeared into anonymity and irrelevance. A decade later, he would ignominiously die, potentially murdered by burglars, in poverty, in Los Angeles at age 93, survived only by a number of esoteric paintings that he painted but few appreciated.
The enigma and mystique of his massive written oeuvre is an analogue to that of studying photography of the Middle East. It is now only being pieced together and must have been accompanied by a huge photographic archive considering his lifelong commitment to photography as well as painting. With a social network eroded by war, displacement, immigration, and the rise of the modern nation state, he had no network to sustain his social value, thus Louis survived on another currency. He survived as an objectified, exoticized Oriental, quite different from the intellectual and political provocateur who pushed upon the various competing discourses of progress, civilization, social identity, governance, and ‘learning’ and ‘turpitude’ within the Ottoman Arab world. Had it not been for the prominence of the various incarnations of his journal, al-Nahla, which found a minor space in the historiography of nahda political ‘journalism’, Louis would undoubtedly have been forgotten like so many of his peers.
If we are to see the constitution of the self during the nineteenth century as a bricolage, as Fani suggests, perhaps we are better served to see the photographic portraits of Louis Saboungi as a bricolage precisely of social forces, networks, and displacements, exactly of ‘society, or context, [and] respondent’. The meaning and language of the Ottoman Arab image ‘that carries the photograph into the domain of readability’ is historically constituted within the discourses of ‘progress’ and ‘civilization’, but that meaning itself, while a seeming after-image of nahda discourse, also contains its own displacements and latency, as exhibited by Louis’s own nomadic positionality. His nomadism, the fact that he chose to move between social networks rather than anchor himself, as his brother did, in one particular locality or set of social relations (perhaps, say, the Syriac Church), provides us with an entrée into the ephemeral nature of photography’s social currency and the sociability which it serves.
Nomadism and Modernities
I explore the lives of the Saboungis not to seek a deterministic connection between biography and craft or to re-inscribe the photograph as a historical document. I am using the Saboungis as an analogue to the condition of photography in general but particularly that of photography in the Middle East. Analytically and allegorically, their positionality marks coterminous levels of early ‘Arab’ photography, the manifest and latent contents of the nahda photograph. Louis was the adventurous provocateur photographer. He was the nomad moving between a series of fixed points that were given meaning through the political economy of the Ottoman Empire. Jurji was the deliberate studio and commercial photographer: a lifelong functionary of the state and its new classes. They both served political order, although from often competing facets of that order. Louis may not fully figure as an archetypal, Deleuzean nomad but he demonstrates highly nomadic or, perhaps more in line with Deleuze and Guattari, nomadological traits. These nomadological traits are only powerful inasmuch as they operate in opposition to and collusion with the hegemonic ideology of the nahda’s photographic perspective. Jurji’s life was functional, instrumentalized, organized, and sedentary, conceptually, socially, physically, and psychically. His experiences and work were contained by sedentary space, ‘striated, by walls, enclosures, and roads between enclosures’, in the words of Deleuze and Guattari, ‘mediatized by something else, a property regime, a State apparatus’. Contrarily, Louis moved not only from location to location. He also was an intellectual mercenary with little allegiance it seems to the political regime of ‘Abd al-Hamid but certainly he shared with it an antagonism to the rationalizing and decentralizing narratives of many nahda intellectuals. More accurately, he moved between multiple ideological and subjective positions, from Syriac priest to anti-Ottoman nationalist, to anti-colonialist, to Hamidian functionary. His life is reminiscent of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, whose travel from Lebanon to Egypt, Malta, Britain, France, Tunisia and Istanbul resonates with Saboungi’s but, in the words of Tarek El-Ariss, ‘unsettles’ hegemonic Eurocentric notions of modernity and offers a ‘counter-discourse’ that challenges ‘the master narrative of European civilization and models of representation which elude the unfamiliar’.
Louis’s nomadological life represents a passing between multiple and competing political positions. These positions might or might not share the same epistemological concepts of ‘civilization’ and ‘progress’ as articulated by nahda and Osmanlılık modernity. Louis was not the embodiment of the ‘nomadic war-machine’ that provokes confrontation within every striated and reified space and organized social body. He did, however, act nomadologically between established spaces, ideological positions, and functions. He moved between battles and, indeed, jumped over ideological barricades in various sides of various fronts without exhibiting any real fidelity to any of them. Rogier Vissier, Saboungi’s biographer, notes how his ‘unpredictable behaviour’, ‘inconsistent and sometimes blatantly contradictory opinions’ perplexed some of al-nahda’s most prominent historians. My argument is that Louis’s multiple positionalities were not as arbitrary as they might seem but, rather, reflect a nomadic sensibility of attack and allegiance within an ideological topography that had newly sedentized into landscape. The hegemony of the rational, disenchanting order, to borrow from Weber, so religiously prosecuted by nahda intellectuals provided a formidable opponent upon which one could confront if mobile. It is important to note that Louis, at times, propagated the nahda ideals of modern learning and knowledge, patriotism, secularism, ‘civilization’ and ‘progress’. But many of his vituperative polemical debates with intellectuals such as Butrus al-Bustani and Catholic Church officials were based explicitly on anti-Enlightenment critiques. It is not, therefore, surprising to see Louis Saboungi adopting the persona of the Eastern spiritual mendicant when he immigrated to the United States.
Pushing on the edges of the political philosophies, religious doctrine, and social reform theories marked Louis’s life. He argued for a shared cross-confessional Ottoman, ‘Eastern’ identity; for the strictness of a Catholic world view that was so orthodox as to attack the Maronite Church; for an Arab Caliph against the Ottoman Turkish Sultanic claim to the Caliphate; and then for a strong, centralized government under the Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid. If Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq shows us that the flattening effects of European modernity were dynamically confronted, and repurposed, Louis’s life shows the limits of both liberal political theory in Europe, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire and the malleability of subjective and political positions that were represented in photographs and portraits by those like Abdullah Frères, Sébah, and his brother.
Approaching Louis’s life through Deleuze and Guattari’s nomadology encourages us to identify the epistemological and ideological immobiliers of Ottoman modernity, such as civilization, progress, al-watan, prosperity, learning, and success, while also understanding spaces, identities, lived-experiences, worldviews, and sentiments that were displaced by them. Deleuze and Guattari’s theorizing of the nomad is fruitful in conceptualizing Louis’s movement between these immobiliers and subjective positions within the striated epistemological landscape of al-nahda and Osmanlılık modernity. The concept of the nomad forces us to consider the use of a technology so dutifully wed to the perspective of Osmanlılık and nahda modernity. It fleshes out a particular condition inherent to nahda photography where, within its reified positivist truth-claims, ‘there is always a nomad on the horizon of a given technological lineage’. Photography, within this conceptualization of Louis Saboungi-as-nomad, serves as a weapon and tool. Indeed, his interest in photography remained one of the few constants of Louis’s life where the practice of photography proved useful to navigate the ideological fixtures of nahda representation, which his brother was so faithful in reproducing.
Louis Saboungi’s sustained commitment to photography, and indeed the careers that his brothers Georges and Daoud made of it, tells us about the stability of the formalistic representation of the nahda image. Nineteenth century Ottoman Arab photography was structured by the ideological organizing of al-nahda al-‘arabiyya and the political economy that it naturalized. This organization made arcane particular modes of behaviour, social structures, and communal ideologies, some of which, like sectarianism, Louis actively enacted. Louis’s nomadological movement was not necessarily expressed in any radical compositional reworking of the nahda photograph, however. Compositionally and formalistically, his photographic production remains rather conservative and loyal to the formalism of Ottoman portraiture. The indexical and semiotic stronghold on the photograph was far too powerful for Louis to even contemplate an alternative. Even if he could, Louis was a provocateur and nomad, not a revolutionary. One might even argue that within his political activism, there was a strong conservative thread, including a simmering sectarianism. Rather, the photographic surface becomes infused with a number of positions that represented themselves as the same but functioned within different routes of social circulation and political currency. These positions are often marked by inscriptions, poems and dedications, which alert us to an alterity and anteriority of the image, making us self-aware of its signifying chain. In other words, within the fixed surface of the photograph – its manifest content – the life of Louis and the use of his photographic production suggest competing ideological contents that haunt a world where nahda discourse was normative.
The Agent, Bureaucrat, and Seminarian
Louis’s fascinating career as a nahda intellectual-activist, photographer, inventor, painter, world-traveller, and, most likely, political opportunist effectively ossified when he entered the service of Sultan 'Abd al-Hamid. In his 1893 portrait, he assumes a civil servant’s uniform and the posture and air of an Ottoman functionary. Similar to images of his rivals, Butrus al-Bustani and al-Shidyaq, and his brother Jurji, he appears in portraits decorated with Ottoman medals, recognizing his service to the Sultan and the Empire. The portrait is orthodox in representing a respected Ottoman official. The threat that he posed from Beirut and London was contained and co-opted. This seems to be a standard job of nahda photography: to represent ‘modern’ nahda and Osmanlılık ego-ideals and stabilize them against the threat of what they identified as arcane, backwards and uncivilized. Official Ottoman portraiture functioned similarly to the landscapes and cityscapes of Abdullah Frères and Sébah’s photographic albums. They flattened difference between cities and provinces into an ideological coherence free of instability or ambiguity. On the one hand, the Ottoman portrait reproduced men and women in uniforms: school uniforms, civil servant uniforms, and military uniforms that resembled one another from Bursa to Baghdad. Likewise, Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid was diligent in recording the imperial centre’s homogenization of the provinces and their peripheries, recording the construction of clock towers, serails, military barracks, bridges, and schools, all of which displayed an aesthetic unity, not unlike the ubiquitous Ottoman civil service, school, and military uniform, that could be called Osmanlılık style.
The portrait of Louis differs little to the self-portraits of his brother Jurji. They resemble a master genre of portraiture of Ottoman functionaries, petit-fonctionnaires, civil servants, and national-class organic intellectuals found throughout the Empire. The portrait offers us a space of ideological overlap, shared sociability, and epistemological commonality despite political and paradigmatic differences. The ideological flattening of the portrait presents a methodological problem in that it forces us to reach beyond the contained space of the image into the circuits of sociability in which the image was displayed, exchanged, and even forgotten. But also, the unquestionable legibility of the photographic portrait, especially those of Ottoman men, the hegemony of its transparency pushes us into the materiality of the image itself to look for inscriptions on its physicality, marks, writing, stamps, or any sign of its exterior sociability.
I am suggesting that Louis Saboungi’s photographic oeuvre allows us to envision the latent content of nahda photography because, even if its composition conforms to nahda formalism, the accompanying inscriptions and texts present cracks in the hegemonic surface of nahda photographic discourse. In discussing photography of the Middle East, we are trapped within discussions of vernaculars, alternative modernities, and colonial mimicry and aesthetics. Approaching a small number of Louis Saboungi’s self-portraits allows us to explore how these concerns were co-existent, simultaneous, and adjacent – contained in the materiality of the photography and its hegemonic representation.
Jurji and Louis’s official portraits are flat studio portraits that operate along the signification system that communicates the ideological hegemony of the nahda discourse of progress, reform, and civilization. Such is not the case for images that Louis reproduced in his journal al-Nahla and elsewhere that are accompanied by verse and texts. Saboungi’s use of images in his journal, in some ways, was pioneering. That is, while a journal such as al-Muqtataf would rely on illustrations, Saboungi’s oppositional publication used them in greater quality and frequency than peer Arabic journals. Among these images, he frequently published portraits of those like Midhat Pasha or the Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid, accompanied by small commentaries or articles. What distinguished al-Nahla further is that for all the illustrations that fellow Arabic journals published none published portraits of their editor. In this regard, his deployment of photography within even the most archetypal nahda medium, the literary-scientific-political journal, evoked a sense of its own alterity, a sense that something lies beyond the transparent message of the portrait’s surface.
The inscriptions, verses, and accompanying texts that glossed photographic portraiture allows us to understand that the photograph’s surface did not produce ‘truths’, subjectivities, or discourse. It evoked them. In doing so, the manifest content of the nahda portrait dictated what subjectivity looked like. But this subjectivity pushed aside others. Louis’s own identities were in constant flux between his role as Syriac Catholic priest, agent provocateur, nationalist activist, anti-Hamidian social and political critique, professor of Arabic, Orientalist, and Ottoman functionary. But these subjective positions found expression in the nahda photographic imagery, hiding the fact that these identities might have challenged the very secularism and governmentality that they purported.
On these images, Louis, like so many others, wrote poetic verse on the portrait’s mount or recto. While the portraits of Louis and Jurji are flat on the surface, reproducing the ‘genetic patterns’, as Paul de Man might say, of the nahda portrait, the portrait bound these two brothers as much as their mutual affection. Louis describes one portrait that he took as ‘a representation (timthal) of my brother Jurji’. With it, he appends a poem underneath the image:
Much time might have past since our union
The love of our friendship melted with my blazing love
Perhaps, one day, the Lord will grant his benevolence
So that we will reunite in the goodness of our country.
The sentiment of poetry pours an interiorized world onto the flatness of a surface that holds seemingly uncontestable truth-value. The coupling of verse cracks the transparency of the image. It offers a punctum to the self-evident truth-value of the portrait where the alterity of personal experience, exclusive only to individuals, appears alongside the fixity of Osmanlılık and positivist nahda discourses. This is the nature of the portrait itself, whose strength of presenting the trueness of its subject also leads to the inevitable recognition of the limitations of the photograph’s transparency. In other words, the coupling of poetic verse and photography remarks on the limits of photography and photographic meaning, which could not yet ‘speak a thousand words’. The portrait, or likeness (timthal), is partnered with its writing, particularly a poetic form that consciously calls attention to itself – to the surface and density of language – as opposed to the transparency and unmediated claims of the photographic representation. This verse is a supplement to the image while also an inextricable part of it. Geoffrey Batchen alerts us that the visuality-writing binary at play within reading photography is constitutionally marked, in the words of Derrida, by ‘a relationship of haunting which perhaps is constitutive of all logics’.
The cultural force of classical Arabic poetic language and the sentiment it elicits weaves back into the immediacy of the portrait. Poetic language animates the flatness to give it life, but also to buffer its transparency. Writing on the surface of the portrait provides both an opacity and transparency of the image, an interiority of meaning and an anteriority of a self-contained nahda subjectivity. However, writing is a part of the image’s materiality and a part of its sociability. A later portrait of Louis was obviously a tool in his role as agent for a British railroad company. Within the image, writing speaks to that role. While these two images, the affectionate souvenir and an official portrait, are quite different writing, quite literally, underwrites them but cannot be separated from their production as much as the writing of light cannot be separated from the photograph’s surface.
A punctum appears when writing is coupled with a photograph, in Barthes’ words, producing an ‘accident’ of the photograph that divulges the image’s alternative history. Does sentiment and conspicuous language betray a trace to pursue the image’s anteriority and its alterity or might they be constituent of photography’s own logic, as Batchen suggests? The portrait of a young Louis, sitting by a cross and dressed in his seminarian costume, might show precisely that the portrait operates on multiple levels. The writing is a part of its materiality that leads us both to the image’s social currency, as well as to the history of its own production, the trajectories of its own circulation, the ideological work it performs in the service of class interests, and so on. Also, writing is an intersecting habitus that both reiterates the dominant enunciations and discourses of the photograph while also authorizing other materialities, sentiments, and experiences to ‘haunt’ those hegemonic ideologies. The complexity of the ‘nature of photography’, however, is that its own habitus is constituted by these alterities that themselves, as Batchen notes, are covalently bonded to the same logic of photographic seeing, the same perspective of capital, self, and affection.
Michel Fani reproduces a similar portrait of Louis as seminarian and dated 1865. Perhaps it, too, was taken to commemorate his ordination in the same year, as Saboungi appears young and bearded in priest clothes. However, in this image the standard books, quill, and parchment in his hands mark Louis’s self-identification as an intellectual, poet, and scholar-cleric. Could one ever divine any connection between this portrait and that of his portrait while working in the Yildiz? No clue could ever exist in this portrait that would relay the historical trajectory in front of him. That trajectory brought a Catholic priest into the service of a Sultan who fostered much loyalty through policies and rhetoric that explicitly induced religious fervour, especially against ethnic and Christian minorities in Saboungi’s ancestral Anatolia; the same Sultan whom he would criticize for usurping the Caliphate.
The portrait of a cleric is not rare. Orthodox patriarchs and Catholic clergy frequently had their portraits taken. An art historian might argue that if a formalistic tradition of portraiture existed in the Arab world it came from two mutually exclusive traditions – that of the Ottoman court/bureaucracy and that of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Apart from the Aleppan, Jerusalemite, and Coptic schools of iconography, Louis Saboungi, like Kevork Aliksan (from the Abdullah Frères) and the Kova Frères, was trained in painting in the Italian seminaries. Religious indices were not uncommon in indigenista photography. By the 1870s, Christian Arabs, Armenians, and Greeks in Lebanon, Palestine, and Egypt, as well as in Istanbul, regularly visited photographic studios to commemorate not only weddings but also, particularly, First Holy Communion and Baptism if not the Last Rites.
What is secular about photography is not the literal index, but rather the perspective that it claims to be natural. Louis Saboungi’s photography both relies on that perspective but, equally, frequently indicts it. In his seminarian portrait, he holds a parchment that reads, ‘The Source of Wisdom is in the safeguard of God’ (r’as al-hikma fi khafirat Allah). While it seems to be taken in Rome, the image is framed on his brother’s mounting, ‘G.Saboungi Photo’. The photography is marked belatedly with reflective sentiment, written about a bygone past. ‘My likeness (shabhi) when I was studying theological studies (al-‘ulum al-diniya) at the College of Propaganda (in Rome), 1856’. Under this, Louis pens in ink verse:
God's protection, temporally, is schools, we remain
because the place of learning elevates the home.
It marks with knowledge whoever comes upon its door
and shames with ignorance all disgraceful turpitude.
The certainty of this portrait, the commemorating of a young man’s days in a seminary, may be folded back into a sectarian discourse that might uncomfortably fit with politically secular al-nahda discourses. But then again, al-nahda discourse always spoke of moral uprightness, faith in God, and, of course, the value of schools and learning in opposition to ignorance and depravity. The classical, somewhat stilted strophe written on the verso contrasts what should be the photograph as a space of ideological certitude and semiotic legibility. Louis Saboungi, like Al-Jalkh and their peers, frequently interspersed Arabic metre, as well as faith in and praise for God, into otherwise pared down Arabic prose. The juxtaposition of the transparency of the photography along with new forms of Arabic prose with the opacity of poetry is one more mark to suggest the alternate modes of belief, seeing, thought, and life that are contained within the surface and circuits of the photograph. The use of classical, poetic verse inscribed into the materiality of the portrait suggests one more Badiouian ‘event’ – or opportunity for what El-Ariss calls, ‘staging alternative and multiple trajectories of Arab modernity’ within literary and cultural spaces.
Louis's early political, religious, and social conflicts in Beirut arose out of the very particular sectarian stances that he held in regard to the Bustanis, who were Protestant converts. He accused the Bustanis and their intellectual coterie of atheism and the Maronites of heterodoxy. Such language or allegations were hardly welcomed at a time when the intellectuals of the Syrian Scientific Society and al-Madrasa al-wataniyya were following Ottoman officials' calls for interconfessional unity. And while the nomenclature is out of the nahda vocabulary list for social progress, national unity, and civilization, one can only ponder what sort of learning Louis imagines when he invokes 'turpitude' (nadhl). That said, the language was resilient enough that it, too, could traverse political boundaries between those nahdawiyyin, activists, and reformers with whom he was allied and those he challenged. This verse, like the portrait and as part of the portrait, could cross time and find meaning in its circulation and its effects. It could cross political lines and ideological registers because it was constituted by its own logic, even while it suggested alternate, competing logics.
This article has sought to explore how the production of photography in the late Ottoman period operated along a hegemonic ideological system of signification, signifying the ego-ideals (the imago) of the new class and national subject. In particular, however, it has sought to understand that hegemony as a particular position as expressed through the surface of the image, or its manifest content. By examining the lives of the pioneer photographers the Saboungis, particularly Louis, we are also able to understand the fixity of that semiotic and ideological system in terms of positionality, in terms of how subjects mediated ideology and how that might have been imprinted or 'scored' into the image. Understanding Louis through Deleuze and Guattari’s nomadological lens, we understand not only the movement between these positions but also the very value of the striated, reified studium or ideologically imbricated indexicality of the photograph. We understand the latent content that displaced social history, and which made photography intelligible but hid the violence of that historic, social, and epistemological project.
 Geoffrey Batchen, Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), p. 181.
 For an example, see Ali Behdad, 'The Powerful Art of Qajar Photography: Orientalism and (Self)-Orientalizing in the Nineteenth Century Iran,' Iranian Studies 34.1-4 (2001): pp. 141-151; or his, 'Sevruguin: Orientalist or Orienteur?' in Sevruguin and the Persian Image: Photographs of Iran, 1870–1930, ed. Frederick Bohrer, (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1999); and Issam Nassar, Laqatat Mughayira: al-taswir al-fotoghraphi al-mubakir fi falastin (Ramallah: Kutub and Qattan Foundation, 2005).
 Greg Grandon, 'Can the Subaltern Be Seen? Photography and the Affects of National,' Hispanic American Historical Review 84:1 (2004): pp. 83-111.
 For some works that begin to touch on indigenous photography and their Ottoman and early twentieth century contexts, see a number of fine studies by scholars such as Ali Behdad, Mary Roberts, Nancy Micklewright, and Esra Akcan on the Middle East in: Ali Behdad and Luke Gartlan, eds., Photography's Orientalism: New Essays on Colonial Representation (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2013); the pioneering work of Issam Nassar including 'Familial Snapshots: Representing Palestine in the Work of the First Local Photographers,' History & Memory 18.2 (2006): pp. 139-155; and 'Photography as Source Material for Social History of Jerusalem,' in Transformed Landscapes: Essays on Palestine and the Middle East in Honor of Walid Khalidi, ed. Kamil Mansur and Leila Tarrazi Fawaz (New York: American University of Cairo, 2009); Beth Baron's chapter on gender, 'Photography and the Press,' in Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender and Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); and Nancy Micklewright's, 'Personal, Public, and Political (Re)Constructions: Photographs and Consumption,' in Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire, Donald Quataert, ed. (Albany: SUNY Press, 2000), pp. 261-288.
 See for example, Khalil Khuri's book of poetry, al-'Asr al-Jadid (The New Era) (Beirut: al-Matba'a al-suriya, 1863).
 For an example of how photography articulated the 'ego-ideals' of nahda subjectivity within the context of nineteenth and early twentieth century Lebanon, see Stephen Sheehi, 'A Social History of Arab Photography; or a Prolegomenon to an Archaeology of the Lebanese Bourgeoisie,' International Journal of Middle East Studies 39.2 (2007): pp. 177-208.
 For more on the manifest and latent content of nahda photography, see Stephen Sheehi, 'The Nahda After-Image, or All Photography Expresses Social Relations,' Third Text 26.4 (2012): pp. 401-414.
 See Fruma Zachs, The Making of a Syrian Identity: Intellectuals and Merchants in Nineteenth Century Beirut (Leiden: Brill, 2005). Zachs' discussion does not take into consideration Marxist or Gramscian notions of class formation or the organic intellectuals' role as representatives of those class interests. Nor does she consider the full implications of her assertion in adding to an understanding of 'middle classes' within particular Arab, Levantine, or Beirut contexts. However, the study introduces the concept of middle strata instead of an all encompassing and generic use of the concept 'bourgeoisie'.
 Viscount Filip Tarrazi, Tarikh al-sahafa al-'arabiyya (Beirut: al-Matba'a al-adabiyya, 1913), p. 214. Debbas asserts the date was later. See Fouad Debbas, Des Photographes a Beyrouth 1840-1918 (Paris: Marval, 2001), p. 49. For information about Dumas, see Carney Gavin, Legacy of Light (Harvard Semitic Museum: Araya Liban, Imprimerie catholique, 1983), p. 4.
 Carney Gavin, Romantic Lebanon: The European View: 1700-1900 (London: British Lebanese Association, 1986), p. 68.
 Michel Fani, Une Histoire de la photographie au Liban 1840-1944 (Beirut: Editions de l'escalier, 2005), p. 66.
 Debbas, op. cit., p. 50.
 Ibid.; and Abd el-Basset al-Ounsi, Dalil Beirut (Beirut: Matbat Iqbal,1909), p. 148.
 Muhsin Yammin, 'David kharaj min al-adraj wa Louis khala thawb al-kahnut,' in Mulhaq al-nahar 10 (1997). Eyal Onne, Photographic Heritage of the Holy Land 1839-1914 (Manchester: Institute of Advanced Studies, 1980), p. 67.
 Debbas, op. cit., p. 48.
 In Yildiz Archives in Istanbul: see Tarih: 05/Ca/1310 (Hicrî) Dosya No:9 Gömlek No:1310/Ca-006 Fon Kodu: İ..TAL. (25.11.1892): 'Beyrut muteberanından Sabuncuzade Joj Efendi'ye rütbe-i salise tevcihi'; and Tarih: 25/S /1316 (Hicrî) Dosya No:143 Gömlek No:1316/S-133 Fon Kodu: İ..TAL. (14.07.1898); 'Beyrut muteberanından Sabuncuzade Jorj Efendi'ye terfian saniye rütbesi tevcihi ve sairenin taltifleri.'Also, for his appointment as a customs inspector, Tarih: 19/Za/1319 (Hicrî) Dosya No:15 Gömlek No:1319/ZA-11 Fon Kodu: İ..RSM. (28.02.1902 ). I thank Özcan Geçer for sharing these references.
 See in Yildiz Archives, Tarih: 26/S /1313 (Hicrî) Dosya No:414 Gömlek No:13 Fon Kodu: DH.MKT. (17.08.1895 ). Debbas also sights Le Moniteur Oriental, published in Istanbul (20 August 1895), which I am assuming is the same issue. See Debbas, op. cit., p. 50.
 Tarrazi, op. cit., p. 72.
 Stephen Penrose, That They Might Have Life: The Story of the American University of Beirut 1866-1941 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), p. 20.
 Tarrazi, op. cit., p. 6.
 Michel Fani, op. cit., p. 62.
 See Rogier Visser's wonderfully informative dissertation that focuses on Louis Saboungi's debates and political embroilments with leading Beirut intellectuals and the Maronite church. See Rogier Visser, Identities in Early Arabic Journalism: The Case of Louis Sabunji, (Ph.D. diss., University of Amsterdam, 2014). Also, I greatly thank amateur historian Özcan Geçer in Istanbul for his generosity in sharing his own boundless knowledge on Louis.
 This is confirmed by Jean Fontaine's biography of Louis Saboungi, which is written in French, and from which Fani lifts verbatim in his biographical information of Louis. I hesitate to cite Fontaine at length because I am in the possession of an incomplete electronic copy of his biography and no source for where it appeared. The pages are pp. 99-102.
 See Leon Zolondek, 'Saboungi in England,' Middle East Studies 14 (1978): pp. 102-115. For his activity supporting Egyptian independence and relationship with Blunt and his wife, see Wilfred Blunt, Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt (London: Unwin, 1907).
 Engin Cizgen, Photography in the Ottoman Empire (Istanbul: Haset Kitabevi A.S., 1987), p. 116. Despite the scattered nature of his work, he was a prolific author, apparently writing in Arabic, Turkish, and English, if not also in Italian and French. He wrote a diary recently published in Turkish, entitled Yıldız Sarayında bir Papaz (A Priest in Yıldız Palace) (Istanbul: Selis Kitaplar, 2007). He wrote the earliest explanation of the Syriac Catholic rite in English, A Short Exposition of the Liturgy and Holy Mass According to the Syrian Catholic Church (New York: D.J. Sadlier & Co., 1872), which, along with another lecture, was presented in the United States in 1872. The other is Old Mother Phoenicia and Young Daughter America (New York: Wynkoop and Hallenback, 1872). Jean Fontaine insinuates that he visited the United States upon leaving Beirut after attacking Butrus al-Bustani's al-Jinan. Written by a man who prematurely died while in his 90s, it should be noted that he also wrote a book about discovering the secret to lengthening life, Kitab al-iktishaf al-thamin li-itaalat al-ʻumr miʾat min al-sinin bi sahhah tammah wa-shaykhukha saliha (The book of discovering the lengthening of life a hundred years in good health and sound old age)(s.p: s.n., 1919). While living in the United States, he also wrote a historical romance about 'Abd al-Hamid's wife,written under his Italianized name Giovanni Luigi Bari Sabungi, Jehan Aftab: The Sun of the World (New York: Real American Syndicate, 1923). He also wrote plays, which are lost, such as A Trip Round The World, presented at court at Crystal Palace, written 1888-1889. I am deeply indebted to the independent researcher Özcan Geçer for our discussions on both the Saboungis. He is, undoubtedly, the most versed scholar on the life, times, and work of Louis Saboungi.
 Visser, op. cit., p. 84.
 I thank Özcan Geçer for this information.
 Michel Fani, op. cit., p. 62.
 Visser, op. cit., p. 110.
 Alan Sekula, 'The Invention of Photographic Meaning,' in Thinking Photography, ed. Victor Burgin (New York: Macmillian, 1982), p. 95.
 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1997), pp. 324-421.
 Ibid., pp. 420-421.
 Tarek El-Ariss, Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Effects and the New Political (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), p. 73.
 Visser, op. cit., p. 6.
 Deleuze and Guattari, op. cit., p. 446.
 Michel Fani, op. cit., p. 35 (author's translation).
 Geoffrey Batchen, op. cit., p. 193.
 Louis Saboungi, Diwan shi't al-Nahla al-manzhum fi khilal al-rihla (Alexandria, 1901), p. 229.
 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), p. 27. For an example of the punctum's 'alternative histories,' see Elizabeth Edwards, Raw Histories: Photographs, Anthropology, and Museums (Oxford: Berg, 2001), p. 101.
 Saboungi, op. cit.
 See Fani, op. cit., p. 63. I thank Özcan Geçer for this image and the information around it.
 For a discussion of some of these traditions, see Magdi Guirguis, An Armenian Artist in Ottoman Cairo: Yuhanna al-Armani and His Coptic Icons (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2008); and Kamal Boullata, Palestinan Art: 1850 to the Present (London: Saqi, 2009). Also, for iconography and modern Arab oil painting's relationship to photography, see Stephen Sheehi, 'Before Painting: Niqula Saig and Photographic Vision,' in Arab Art Histories: Khaled Shouman Collection (Qira'at fil-fann al-'arabi) (Amman: Darat al-Funun and Amsterdam: Idea Books, 2014), pp. 361-374.
 El-Ariss, op. cit., p. 181.
 John Tagg, The Burden of Representation: Essays on the Photographies and Histories (Amherst: University of Mass. Press, 1988), p. 65.