I arrived at my hotel last week in the dark. It was late and I didn’t see much in the cab ride. All I knew as I stared out over the Sea of Marmara from my third floor balcony was that the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia were just 200 meters behind me. Waiting for me.
When you are this excited about a place and getting it through the lens, a 5am alarm is like sweet music. Really.
I remember coming upon the Eiffel Tower for the first time in a gorgeous indigo twilight. I was enraptured, just captivated, and feeling that this was somehow a very special moment in my life.
It happened again here in Istanbul. Just, wow. An indigo twilight with the last of the evening stars, the moon sinking into the sea, cloud cover just perfect – the colours soon to come to the Blue Mosque before me. I felt total awe, it was wonderful. And I was ready.
There is a lot of juggling, a lot of hustling and a lot of unreliability in the life of a photographer (or any artist/freelance creative). It’s intense. But at moments like this, I feel so completely alive, feeling new experiences run electricity lines through my life. I feel so lucky, as though this city were here just for me to explore.
I had a birthday recently. After so many I am pretty sure I am a grown-up. But that is not how I feel when I’m in awe of something. I feel like a child. A child completely oblivious to tasks, responsibility, habits,etc. I just want to wiggle and say woohoo! I like it. I like it! Luckily I also have discipline and the skills to be effective at what I do and still be in awe. It kind of reminds me of meditation: a free state of thinking and being. Letting go and going with the flow. This is my juice. This is my creative state. I shoot as a child sees.
Istanbul is a huge city. More like London than Paris. I must have walked close to 30 kilometers already (a lot of it to and from the kebab shop). I have found the iconic places and discovered quiet corners laced with mystery. The condition of the buildings varies from sparkling gold towers to dilapidated wooden ruins, all occupied. Definitely a city of contrasts.
The locals in Sultanahmet where I stayed for the first week are very joyful and glad to help with directions or to offer you tea. They do spend day in and day out with tourists, after all.
I am now in Beyoglu outside of the main tourist area and life is quite different Recently while reading Orhan Pamuk’s lovely book Istanbul: Memories of a City I came across the concept of huzun, which I found really intriguing:
“To feel this huzun is to see the scenes, evoke the memories, in which the city itself becomes the very illustration, the very essence of huzun. I am speaking of the evenings when the sun sets early; of fathers under streetlamps in the back streets returning home carrying plastic bags; of the old Bosphorus ferries moored to deserted stations in the middle of winter; of the children who play ball between the cars on cobblestoned streets; of teahouses packed to the rafters with unemployed men; of ship horns booming through the fog; of crowds rushing to catch ferries on winter evenings; of the city walls, ruins since the end of the Byzantine Empire; of the markets that empty in evenings;
“…of the seagulls perched on rusty barges caked with moss and mussels, unflinching under pelting rain; of crowds of men fishing on the sides of the Galata Bridge; of the busses packed with passengers; of the little children in the streets who try to sell the same packet of tissues to every passerby; of the underpasses in the most crowded intersections; of the overpasses in which every step is broken in a different way; of beautiful covered women timidly bargaining in street markets; of the view of the Golden Horn, looking towards Eyüp from the Galata Bridge; of the simit vendors on the pier who gaze at the view as they wait for customers; of everything being broken, worn out, past its prime; I speak of them all.” Orhan Pamuk
I like how Pamuk is painting a picture of the city with his words and I am seeing it in photograph after photograph. I feel I know what he is talking about now. He goes on to say that all happy cities resemble each other, where melancholic cities each have their own type of melancholy. Exploration isn’t just looking at the architecture and the people, it’s exploring the feeling and sense of a place. Being a photographer and someone who is always trying to find gems under the surface, I feel this concept very alluring. I think in my own way I am searching for this huzun in the people and the places here, I haven’t captured it to my liking yet but I don’t want to go too fast. I have time. I want to see it, and feel it, all.
I know I am in an exotic local so seeing interesting things feels a little easier, but I would still like to encourage you find something interesting to photograph in your life today. Sometimes I like to ask myself –
What will I see today that I’ve never noticed before?
I’d love to know what you think of my photos and what your experiences of Istanbul are. Send me an email or comment here. I love hearing from you guys!
PS: I really love this photo book on Istanbul by the photographer Ara Guler. His photos of the daily life in the city were taken from 1940’s to 1980’s and are an incredibly evocative and intriguing exploration. The photos are accompanied by commentaries by Orhan Pamuk, both of which are a great inspiration for me to push myself further with my work.