Between Reality and Fiction: Interpreting Visual Culture in Early Turkish Republican Print Media

By Yasemin Gencer
Submitted to Session P4802 (Mass Media in Middle East Historiography, 2017 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
After the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923 the popular press was mobilized toward supporting and promoting the new state and its comprehensive reform agenda. The political elite and the intelligentsia alike were keen on transforming the formerly “Ottoman” society and state from a caliphate-sultanate to a modern, secular, nation-state. Consequently, print media was the main vehicle for developing and proliferating text- and image-based propaganda to assist in this transformation. A careful survey of the popular periodicals issued during the first five years of the Republic (1923-1928) reveals how images such as cartoons, illustrations, photographs, and advertisements approached the task of modifying and uniting the budding nation’s profile through various representations of the state and its people. If read with caution and care, these visual sources retain the potential to provide a wealth of information pertaining to this period in Turkey’s history. Concurrently, the same visual sources, if taken at face value or misinterpreted, could lead to erroneous information and conclusions.

This presentation will explore the benefits and difficulties of using mass produced images as sources of information in modern societies. Drawing from the rich examples provided by the early Turkish Republican popular press, this study will demonstrate how mass-generated images have occupied a pervasive, if not notorious place in modern political and cultural discourse in the Middle East. For better or for worse, mass-produced and widely disseminated images have played a pivotal role in shaping everything from collective identities to consumer behavior. Yet, since images are misleading, manipulative, and often constructed, their simultaneous ubiquity and falseness is precisely why they are valuable sources of information that require more than a perceptive gaze to become useful in scholarship. Focusing on questions of representation, motivation, and function, this presentation will consider how a systematic interrogation of mass-circulated images can significantly enhance and enrich the narrative fabric of twentieth-century histories in the Middle East.