PORTRAITS OF UNBELONGING: Photography, the Ottoman State, and the Making of Armenian Emigrants, 1896-1908
Portraits of Unbelonging investigates the history of Ottoman Armenian emigration from the Ottoman east to the United States from the politically fraught and often violent 1890s to the end of Abdülhamid II's reign in 1909. Between 1896 and 1909, Ottoman Armenian subjects could emigrate legally only if they renounced their nationality and promised to never return to the empire. Having their photograph taken was a key step in the process. These photos recorded their “renunciation of nationality” and became one of the first uses of photography to police borders anywhere in the world.
The goal of Portraits of Unbelonging is to link an Ottoman Armenian past to an American future to create a double-sided history of migration. Gürsel follows the stories of emigrant families over a century through official documents, ship manifests, and family photo albums. This involves traveling all around the United States to meet with descendants of those photographed and hear what became of the families first encountered in the Ottoman archives.
Zeynep Devrim Gürsel is a media anthropologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University. She is the author of Image Brokers: Visualizing World News in the Age of Digital Circulation (Univ. of California Press, 2016) and the director of Coffee Futures, an award-winning ethnographic film that explores contemporary Turkish politics through the prism of the everyday practice of coffee fortune telling.
Ararat Eskijian Museum
National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR)
Project SAVE Armenian Photographic Archives