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How has photography policed borders and differences? How do photography and statecraft intersect in the making and unmaking of citizens? Portraits of Unbelonging is a double-sided history of migration, examining one of the first uses of photographs to police borders. It studies the history of Ottoman Armenian emigration from the Ottoman east to the United States from the politically fraught and often violent 1890s to the end of Abdülhamid II's reign in 1909.
Like each individual terk-i tabiiyet photograph, the official document used in the renunciation of Ottoman nationality for emigration, the project faces two directions; it links an Ottoman past to an American future. Portraits of Unbelonging traces the stories of emigrant families over a century – from the bureaucratic files that unmade Ottoman subjects, to the ship manifests that tracked their migration routes, to the census and naturalization records that documented their new lives as immigrants then citizens in the United States, to the family albums of their descendants living today. It is a history of mass migration on an intimate scale.