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Sunday, 9 August 2015

Street Scribes in Istanbul

These two guys, photographed in a square in Istanbul a few months ago, would appear to be the last of the few in a Turkish tradition of street scribes which dates back at least 700 years, to be earliest days of the Ottoman Empire. One wonders what will happen when the last street scribe packs away his typewriter. Somehow, I can't see this seemingly still vital work being done by someone setting up a laptop with a battery-operated printer. Is there any other way? 
Writing in the London Telegraph travel section in 2007, Nigel Richardson said, "Each weekday, near the law courts in Istanbul, a man sets up a folding table with a battered manual typewriter on it and waits for passing trade. He's a scribe! How quaint and charming. But our tourist guide, Ersin Ozdemir, seemed embarrassed when I mentioned him. If scribes exist, so do illiterates, and Istanbullus (as natives of the city are known) are sick of being shown up by the West."
Yet the need remains. Blogger Ellen Ziegler, who took the photograph above in 2011, explained in a post on Luminously Trivial: "I was charmed by the Typewriter Men who sit in the public square with their manual typewriters, navigating the bureaucracy for their clients, and writing letters for those who couldn't read or write." A Dutch college which used the image added, "It is a typical view in Turkey ... A lot of things have to be handed in to the government in a typical way. And many people don't know how. But the people with the typewriters do."
The same could doubtless be said of street scribes who have offered their services in Istanbul since the 13th Century.
 1959: "A street in Istanbul where people can go to have documents typed up while they wait." 
1955: "Street scribes in Turkey have gone modern. Formerly, these picturesque members of one of Turkey's oldest professions filled out papers and wrote letters for the public with quills. The colourful sidewalk stenographers, like this one in Istanbul, now use typewriters to handle the official and private correspondence of illiterate peasants and soldiers. Licensed by the mayor, the scribes set up their desks near courthouses and government offices and manage to take in a few lire a day."
1950: "A customer who has not had the benefit of a formal education employs the services of a letter writer and his typewriter, in Istanbul."
Early 20th Century: "écrivains publics" - photographs taken by Charles Chusseau-Flaviens. Chusseau-Flaviens was a French independent photojournalist 1890s-1910s. His distribution of other photographers' work for publication created one of the first photo press agencies, at 46 Rue Bayen, Paris. Chusseau-Flaviens' byline appeared on numerous photographs from many European countries as well as from Africa, the Middle East, the Orient and the United States. A substantial portion of his photographic collection, represented by nearly 11,000 glass negatives, was donated by Kodak Pathé to the George Eastman House (GEH) International Museum of Photography and Film in 1974. Journals in which Chusseau-Flaviens images appeared include Ilustraçāo Portugueza, L'Illustration, The Illustrated London News, Le Monde and The Graphic.
Possibly 1910Arzuhalci ("Public Scribe", or scrivener) by Osman Hamdi Bey (1842–1910).
Late 19th CenturyThe Scribe by Fausto Zonaro (1854-1919). "People of Istanbul used to have scribes to write or read their letters as they had very low literary knowledge."
Late 19th Century: The Scribe by Julius Starck (1814-1884) 
1883: Public Scribe in Istanbul ("Les Turcs: écrivain public") by Edmondo De Amicis (1846-1908).
1845-1855 Arzuhalci ("scribe or public letter writer") by Amedeo Preziosi (1816-1882). "They drafted legal petitions, and drew up deeds for property transactions as well."
1853: A Turkish Scribe, Istanbul ("from a photograph taken in Constantinople"). 
1850: Scribe with women (Écrivain and femme turqsat Istanbul, by Joseph Schranz (1803-1853)
Late 18th CenturyThe Ottoman Scribe by Antonio de Dominici (1734-1794)
1287: Scribe, Istanbul. 


Taylor Harbin said...

Yes! Thank you for doing a post on the subject. I was wondering if the Wikipedia article on typewriters was accurate when they mentioned this.

Bill M said...

Quite an interesting post. I wonder did the Scribe with the pen ever think about the typewriter as we do the computer.

schmasch said...

A joy to read, thanks for sharing.
As far as I know, there are quite a few street scribes left in India by the way.

Richard P said...

Very interesting. I enjoyed the reverse chronological order.

I don't think the patrons of these scribes are necessarily illiterate. The legal system and the bureaucracy of any country can be intimidating, and these scribes perform a valuable service as go-betweens who can help the average citizen.

Robert Messenger said...

Yes, I agree, as Ellen and her Dutch friends pointed out, red tape can be nigh on impossible to navigate for anyone.
I thought you might query the date of that first Charles Chusseau-Flaviens photo. Is it a typewriter???

dieschreibmaschinisten said...

Recently I found this on YouTube about typists in Myanmar:

dieschreibmaschinisten said...

Recently I found this on YouTube about typists in Myanmar:

dieschreibmaschinisten said...

Recently I found this on YouTube about typists in Myanmar: