Style and Content

The Byzantine Institute staff kept detailed records during filming. Their fieldwork notebooks describe the subjects and settings of individual shots, as well as the amount of film and light sources used. This meticulous record-keeping even makes it possible to identify individual staff members who appear in the footage. These notes also tell us something about the films that - unfortunately - have been lost or did not survive. Using this written documentation, we can fill in the gaps and imagine the wealth of motion pictures made by the Byzantine Institute’s photographer Pierre Iskender in his effort to capture the mosaics of Istanbul.

The thirteen (13) extant films held at ICFA vary in subject matter and differ stylistically. The exhibit items below are scans of the fieldwork notebooks that demonstrate a conscious shift in the Byzantine Institute’s filmmaking from a somewhat “romantic” style to a more documentary approach.

People

The earliest movie produced by the Byzantine Institute is different from all the others, in terms of the subjects depicted and the way they are portrayed. The film has a distinct anthropological approach. During the time that the Byzantine Institute worked at the Red Sea Monasteries of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul in Egypt, staff were mainly focused on cleaning and documenting the frescoes inside the churches. However, the black and white film documenting the sites shows neither the interior of the churches nor the frescoes within. Instead, the film is a portrait of the landscape surrounding the monasteries and local men engaged in their day-to-day activities. While we do not have any written documentation related to the making of this earliest film, it can be assumed that Thomas Whittemore was inspired by the production of motion picture films by related archaeological initiatives like the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), with which Whittemore was involved in some capacity throughout the 1910s to 1920s. The EES films mainly focus on the local people and workers employed at excavation sites. Another element in common with these archaeological films is the depiction of the active involvement of fieldwork directors, as evidenced by the portrayal of Thomas Whittemore riding a camel to the Red Sea Monasteries.

Mosaics

This early experimental approach to moving pictures changed significantly with the commencement of systematic documentation of the mosaics at Hagia Sophia in 1936. The Institute’s photographer Pierre Iskender was tasked with shooting the films, which were intentionally filmed in color to show the splendor of the mosaics. Every figural and ornamental mosaic is documented in their before and after stages of cleaning, showing details and general views in turn. The Hagia Sophia films do not display any interest in local people or the site's surroundings. They focus solely on the main subject of the work carried out by the Byzantine Institute, the uncovering of the mosaics in Hagia Sophia (and later also in Kariye Camii).

Restoration Work

As moving pictures formed an increasingly important part of the documentation of the Byzantine Institute's work, the films began to depict the techniques used in the cleaning and restoration of the mosaics. Notebook entries in the collection show that as early as 1937, films were made specifically to showcase the advanced methods employed in the difficult task of preserving the precious mosaics of Hagia Sophia. Thomas Whittemore is portrayed as the field director, making important decisions, directing the fieldworkers in their tasks, and observing the progress of the project.

 

Exhibit Items

Letter from King Mark Topous to Thomas Whittemore, April 3, 1929

Topous refers to Whittemore's interest in making a "cinema film" in Abyssinia (ancient name of Ethiopia)

Alec T. White: Notebook Entry for July 25, 1935

White mentions Seth Gano, Secretary of the Byzantine Institute, filming moving images of mosaics at Hagia Sophia. Based on the description of the subjects and the date of the entry, it appears that this film is not part of ICFA's collections and has likely not been preserved.

Richard A. Gregory: Notebook Entry for May 25, 1936

Gregory records the beginning of experimental efforts to create color films of the "Zoe Panel" in Hagia Sophia.

Richard A. Gregory: Notebook Entry for May 26, 1936

Gregory makes note of the first test filming in color. The "Zoe Panel" was chosen as the subject.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for May 26, 1936

Gregory records the work carried out in Hagia Sophia in a diagram, which also shows the filming carried out at the "Zoe Panel."

Richard A. Gregory: Notebook Entry for June 6, 1936

Gregory records the ongoing filming of the "Zoe Panel" and the Deisis in Hagia Sophia.

Richard A. Gregory: Notebook Entry for October 9, 1936

Gregory mentions an entire week of filming in Hagia Sophia focused on the working techniques used in the apse and soffit arch.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for November 4, 1936

Gregory mentions that filming was carried out in the narthex of Hagia Sophia.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for November 5, 1936

Gregory mentions working on movie photography without naming the subject.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for November 10, 1936

Gregory mentions working on movie photography on the "Vestibule Panel" in Hagia Sophia.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for November 16 - 18, 1936

Gregory notes that films were made on all three days documenting the working techniques used in the apse of Hagia Sophia.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for November 16, 1936

In his diagram of work carried out in Hagia Sophia, Gregory records filming in the apse.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for November 17, 1936

In his diagram of work carried out in Hagia Sophia, Gregory records filming in the apse.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for November 18, 1936

In his diagram of work carried out in Hagia Sophia, Gregory records filming in the apse.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for November 19 - 24, 1936

Gregory records the closing days of the 1936 fieldwork season at Hagia Sophia. On November 19th and 20th, filming occurred in the South Gallery, the Narthex, and the Vestibule.

Richard A. Gregory: Notebook Entry for November 19, 1936

Gregory records every single shot taken while filming in the South Gallery of Hagia Sophia in 1936.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for September 30, 1937

Gregory notes that movies were filmed in the apse of Hagia Sophia.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for October 1, 1937

Gregory records that movies were filmed in the apse of Hagia Sophia.

Richard A. Gregory: Notebook Entry for November 2, 1937

Gregory records in detail the filming that took place in Hagia Sophia of the fieldworkers and Thomas Whittemore at work, documenting the techniques employed on the angel in the soffit arch.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for September 30, 1938

Gregory records that movies were filmed in the apse of Hagia Sophia.

Richard A. Gregory: Notebook Entry for October 24, 1938

Gregory records that the angel in the soffit arch of Hagia Sophia was filmed in color.

Richard A. Gregory: Notebook Entry for October 26, 1938

Gregory records that the Virgin Mary and the Child in the apse of Hagia Sophia were filmed.

Richard A. Gregory: Notebook Entry for July 20, 1939

Gregory records that the following subjects were filmed in color: the recesses with St. John Chrysostom and St. Ignatios Theophoros in the northern tympanum wall and the method of reproduction in the apse of Hagia Sophia.

William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for July 20, 1939

William Gregory records that the recess with St. Ignatios Theophoros on the northern tympanum wall of Hagia Sophia was filmed. His brother Richard Gregory mentions in his notebook entry for the same day that work was also carried out and films made of the recess with St. John Chrysostom and the apse.

Richard A. Gregory: Notebook Entry for August 24, 1939

Gregory records that color films were made of the recesses with St. John Chrysostom and St. Ignatios Theophoros on the northern tympanum wall and of the apse of Hagia Sophia.

Ernest Hawkins (?): Notebook Entry for July 25, 1940

The author records color films being made of work carried out on the recesses with St. John Chrysostom and St. Ignatios Theophoros on the northern tympanum wall in Hagia Sophia. Based on the handwriting, the author of this notebook is likely Ernest Hawkins.

Ernest Hawkins (?): Notebook Entry for August 16, 1940

The author records color films being made of work carried out on the recesses with St. John Chrysostom and St. Ignatios Theophoros on the northern tympanum wall in Hagia Sophia. Based on the handwriting, the author of this notebook is likely Ernest Hawkins.

Ernest Hawkins: Notebook Entry for September 10, 1940

Hawkins documents color films being made of the recesses with St. John Chrysostom, St. Ignatios Theophoros, and St. Ignatios the Younger on the northern tympanum wall in Hagia Sophia.

Ernest Hawkins (?): Notebook Entry for October 3, 1940

The author records color films being made of Thomas Whittemore and the recesses with St. John Chrysostom and St. Ignatios Theophoros on the northern tympanum wall in Hagia Sophia. Based on the handwriting, the author of this notebook is likely Ernest Hawkins.

Ernest Hawkins: Notebook Entry for October 11, 1940

Hawkins documents color films being made of work carried out at the recess with St. Ignatios Theophoros on the northern tympanum wall in Hagia Sophia.

Ernest Hawkins: Notebook Entry for October 25, 1940

Hawkins documents color films being made of work carried out at the recesses with St. John Chrysostom and St. Ignatios Theophoros on the northern tympanum wall in Hagia Sophia.

Ernest Hawkins (?): Notebook Entry for December 2 - 3, 1940

The author records the fall of a wooden window frame that interrupted photography. Films were made the next day of the mosaics on the northern tympanum wall in Hagia Sophia. Based on the handwriting, the author of this notebook is likely Ernest Hawkins.

Ernest Hawkins: Notebook Entry for July 2 - 7, 1947

Hawkins documents a Mr. Ball filming in the Hagia Sophia. From the description of the subjects, it appears that this footage is not included in ICFA's collections and has probably been lost.

Ernest Hawkins: Notebook Entry for July 9, 1948

Hawkins documents black and white movies being filmed at Kariye Camii. The entry is a detailed account of every shot of the film, of which only shot No. 3 of the scaffold and No. 10 of the exterior have survived as part of ICFA's Kariye Camii film.

Ernest Hawkins: Notebook Entry for July 16, 1948

Hawkins documents black and white movies filmed in Kariye Camii. Based on the description, it appears that these films are not included in ICFA's collections and have probably not survived. However, this detailed account of every shot gives a good sense of the content of the lost footage.

Ernest Hawkins: Notebook Entry for September 29, 1948

Hawkins documents four color films shot at Kariye Camii. A comparison of this detailed account of every shot with the surviving Kariye Camii film confirms that this entry is a complete record of its creation.

Ernest Hawkins: Notebook Entry for October 27, 1948

Hawkins documents a color film showing the recess with St. Ignatios (unclear which figure, Theophoros or the Younger) on the northern tympanum wall in Hagia Sophia.

Ernest Hawkins: List of Photographs and Films Taken in 1948

Hawkins lists all dates when still photographs or moving images were taken in both Kariye Camii and Hagia Sophia during the year 1948.

Ernest Hawkins: List of Photographs and Films Taken in 1949

Hawkins documents color films showing almost all of the mosaics in Hagia Sophia. He also mentions two additional films shot in Kariye Camii that have not survived. Following the 1949 fieldwork season, there is no evidence of any additional filming undertaken by the Byzantine Institute at either site. Thomas Whittemore died the following year.