DAME COPHTE, A RARE PHOTOGRAPH BY THE PROMINENT PHOTOGRAPHER JEAN PASCAL SÉBAH
Jean (or Johannes) Pascal Sebah (1874 – 1947) was a famous photographer in Egypt in the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. He was son of Pascal Sebah (1823 – 1886), who was born in Turkey to a Syrian Catholic father and Armenian mother, and was a prominent and pioneer photographer who worked in Istanbul and Cairo. He opened his studio in Cairo in 1873. Pascal Sebah signed his prints as P. Sebah.
Pascal Sebah studio in Cairo was continued by his brother, Cosimi, after his death in 1886. When Jean was only 16, in 1890, he got involved in the business, and established a partnership with a Frenchman, Policarpe Joaillier, under a new name, Sebah & Joaillier. He retired in 1934. The studio’s prints are signed J.P. Sebah on the negative (others are signed Sebah & Joaillier).
All Jean’s photos are wonderful works of photography. I found a Coptic print by him titled, Dame Cophte (Coptic Dame). The year of its production is unknown but perhaps in the late 80s or the beginning of the 90s.
There are two versions available, and I am not sure if they are of the same Coptic woman: the first is Signed and titled in negative, and given No. 329; and the second Signed and titled in negative, and given No. 481. The latter is kept as part of the collection of Ken and Jenny Jacobson Orientalist Photography.
The photo shows the costume of women during that period (Islamic influence), which was the norm in Egypt. This was soon to be replaced by modern clothing in rich Coptic families, especially in larger cities, like Cairo and Alexandria, by the turn of the century.