was an official photographer of the Imperial Court of Iran whose commercial photography studio was one of the most successful in Tehran from the late 1870s to about 1934.
The images in this collection provide a rich visual documentation of the Qajar and early Pahlavi dynasties of Iran. The astonishing range of Antoin Sevruguin's photographs, and the prolific output of the studio, provides today's viewer with an important resource for examining the cultural histories and hierarchical elements of Iranian society. They assist the scholar in studying architectural sites that may have been damaged or destroyed, or are unavailable for first-hand investigation. Increasingly, the prints are valued for their artistic elents that may sometimes overshadow their documentary value. Most significantly, Sevruguin's images form part of an ongoing history that links a distant past and place to the present.
Antoin Sevruguin (late 1830s-1933) operated the most celebrated commercial photography studio in Tehran during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His career coincided with a critical period of modern Iranian history, an era of gradual change, stretching from the reign of Nasir al-din Shah (reigned 1848-1896) to that of Reza Shah Pahlavi (reigned 1925-1941.) His photographs were perhaps the most widely circulated and published in the West.
Commercial studios understood that photography was the optimal tool for marketing the nostalgic pleasures and illusions of the Middle East entertained by Westerners. Sevruguin, as many others had done before and after him, created an image of the Near East for foreign viewers that reinforced certain Orientalist stereotypes. However, as one who lived the majority of his life in Tehran, Antoin Sevruguin also had an ardent affection for Iran and Iranian culture. Rather than being a detached observer, he maintained a personal and informed relationship with the country in which he chose to live and visually portray. His photography served audiences both indigenous and Western.
Sevruguin, an Armenian Christian of Russian descent, was born during the late 1830s (precise date unknown) at the Russian embassy in Tehran. His father, Vassil de Sevruguin, a diplomat with the Russian embassy in Tehran, married Achin Khanoum, and together they had seven children - four boys (Ivan, Antoin, Kolia, and Emanuel) and three girls (names unknown.) Following Vassil de Sevruguin's untimely death from a horse riding accident, his wife moved to her hometown of Tbilisi, the capital of modern-day Georgia. Financial circumstances then forced the family to move to the provincial town of Akoulis, where the brothers attended school. After graduation, Antoin returned to T'bilisi and took up painting but soon became fascinated by the new medium of photography. It was there that he worked with the Russian photographer Dimitri Ivanovich Ermakov (1845-1916) and was greatly influenced by the extensive photographs Ermakov took while traveling in Iran, Crimea, Central Asia, and Caucasus.
It was sometime in the 1870s when Sevruguin decided to undertake a photographic survey of the people, landscape, and architecture of Iran and persuaded his brothers Kolia and Emanuel to assist him in the adventure. They embarked by caravan to Azerbaijan and then continued the project in Kurdistan and Luristan. This became the first of many expeditions throughout the land that Sevruguin undertook during his lifetime in his wish to make an exhaustive photographic survey of Iran. Ultimately, the three brothers went to Tehran where, in 1883, they established a photographic studio located on Alaal-dawla Street (Firdawsi Avenue.) Antoin was the artistic heart of the business, while his brothers, especially Emanuel, did the managerial work.
In Tehran Sevruguin married Louise Gourgenian, an Iranian-Armenian and they had seven children - four boys (Sasha, Andrew, Ivan, and Misha) and three girls (Olga I, Mary, and Olga II.) As the business prospered, Sevruguin's skill in photographic portraiture attracted clients from the elite and earned him a position as one of the official court photographers to Nasir al-din Shah. To keep himself up-to-date on new developments in photography, Sevruguin made yearly trips to Vienna and other European cities to buy cameras and chemically prepared glass plates.
A highlight in Sevruguin's career was an important commission from the German art historian Friedrich Sarre (1865-1945.) Sarre contracted Antoin and his brother Emanuel to organize a major expedition through southern and southwestern Iran, in order to photograph the Achaemenid (ca. 550-331 B.C.) and Sasanian (ca. A.D. 224-651) rock graves and monuments. Unrest among many of the southern tribes dissuaded Sarre from undertaking the dangerous expedition, and it was to Antoin's advantage that he had friendly contacts among the various tribal chieftains, many of whom were his clients. It is likely that Sarre used all of Sevruguin's photographs in, Iranische Felsreliefs (Berlin, 1910), published in collaboration with Ernst Herzfeld. Perhaps due to the contractual agreement, the book did not credit Sevruguin's name, leaving him deeply disappointed that his significant efforts from a complicated and dangerous mission had garnered him to public credit.
Recognition did come, however, at international photographic exhibitions, where Sevruguin received various prizes and medals, including those won in Brussels in 1897 and Paris in 1900. Awarded the Persian Imperial Order - the Lion and the Sun - by Nasir al-din Shah for his service to the royal house, Sevruguin was also conferred the title of khan (prince), and became known as "Antoin-Khan" in Tehran.
Art ruled Sevruguin's life and he was a voracious reader of history, poetry, and literature in Persian, Russian, French, and Armenian. He is described as friendly, lovable, and magnanimous and at festivities would readily recite by heart, in Persian, long passages from Firdawsi's, Shahnamah (Book of Kings.) His friends included courtiers, dervishes, tribal chieftains, intellectuals, and diplomats. As a painter, he also studied traditional Persian painting and admired French Impressionism and Rembrandt's works, working to capture light in his photographs the way Rembrandt did in his paintings.
Internal political tensions between constitutionalists and reactionaries led to civil unrest in Tehran in 1908. Next to Sevruguin's photographic studio lived Zahir al-dawla, the governor or Rasht, who was a staunch constitutionalist. Because of him, the entire street was plundered by soldiers of the shah, and Zahir al-dawla's house was bombed. The bombings and pillaging heavily damaged Sevruguin's collection of photographs. Of the more than 7,000 glass plates, only 2,000 could later be reassembled and restored. During the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the family suffered a second financial blow. In efforts to modernize his country, the shah ordered the confiscation of the remaining 2,000 glass plates of Sevruguin's photograph collection which he believed represented "old-fashioned" Iran. This brought an end to the once prominent photographic enterprise.
In 1933, in his late nineties, Antoin Sevruguin died from a kidney infection. He is buried in the family tomb in Tehran.
Scope and Content Note
Antoin Sevruguin (d. 1934) was an official photographer of the Imperial Court of Iran, whose commercial photography studio was one of the most successful in Tehran from the 1860s to the 1920s. His photographs document Iran, Iranian culture, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Luristan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives is the repository for 866 Sevruguin photographs. These photographs are found within two collections, the Myron Bement Smith Collection and Antoin Sevruguin Photographs.
Arrangement of the Papers
This assembly of Sevruguin photographs from two different collections in the Archives is divided into two series according to the originating collection: 1. Myron Bement Smith Collection and 2. Antoin Sevruguin photographs. Series 1 contains modern prints from negatives and gelatin silver print found in the Myron Bement Smith Collection and series 2 contains eighteen unmounted albumen prints from Antoin Sevruguin Photographs.
Restrictions on Access
Access is by appointment only, Monday through Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please contact the Archives to make an appointment.
Бонус: другой русский фотограф шахов - Дмитрий Иванович Ермаков (1846 – 1916): http://hojja-nusreddin.livejournal.com/2858616.html
О фотолетописи гарема: http://hojja-nusreddin.livejournal.com/2439530.html