When it comes to street photography I try not to travel anywhere with a pre-conceived idea of my destination. I also tend not to do any research in advance – Pat does all that – I want to arrive as a blank canvas, and immerse myself immediately. This doesn’t stop imagination and wonder however – I thought of narrow streets in an Egyptian style with quietness over it. Istanbul was none of these.
The first thing that hit me was the sheer volume of people – you almost can’t grasp it. The majority were wrapped up well – the temperature during our visit hovered around 10ºC. There is no solitude in Istanbul; it’s constant and it’s thriving and it moves around you, if you’re able to snatch a fleeting moment to stand still.
Two million people descend on Istiklal Avenue every day on the way up to Taxim Square. Two million people – it’s phenomenal to witness, I was in awe. It wasn’t daunting as such, the people are wonderful, but it’s certainly an eye opener, and a culture immersion. Spain is a foreign country – so is Italy and America, but this felt different to me. It felt like a whole other world, and the opportunities and excitement that came with it as a Street Photographer were bountiful and endless. I felt awake and alive, and refreshed in my creativity the moment I arrived.
The noise was fantastic and incredible. Our truly brilliant guide from our hotel, Gokhan, told me that on his day off work he doesn’t go out, he stays at home and finds some space and some quiet. He was my first true insight into the people of Istanbul. We built a closeness in the days we spent together and have become great friends. He helped me to get access into factories and production areas. Well I say factories – generally they were large tall buildings with rooms where ten or twelve men would be hand making shoes; the smell of glue was overwhelming, and addictive to many. But still, everyone smiled, laughed and joked.
Istanbul’s appeal for me lay in its cultural difference. There were very few Europeans, so you’re sort of aware you stick out a bit, but at the same time, the reception I received, the humanity and friendliness that emanated from the people was like nothing I’ve ever known.
It’s an impossibly exiting place. The Grand Bazaar has 4300 stalls inside alone, plus probably three times that outside – it was truly mind blowing. The buildings were an eclectic ramshackle of Ottoman and Byzantine – beautiful in their age, interspersed by Mosques; there’s one on every street corner.
That first moment when I decided to go for it, to get my camera out and shoot arrived. I just had to dive in, see what the people were doing, have a walk around, find my feet. I felt relaxed very quickly, and with this, the closer I felt I was able to shoot people as they were walking past – and nobody batted an eyelid. Respect came first of course, I didn’t want to offend anyone, but the more I shot, the more I realised how truly fantastic these people were.
We visited all the major landmarks – the Galata Tower and Bridge, the Bosporus, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque; all of these gave us a good base and parameters to work around, but we also went off-piste, down the side streets, into the factories and the shops and the bakeries. Discovering Fener, and Balat the Jewish Quarter, and Eyup – a big area that’s been demolished but rebuilt. People are living tough lives here, but they were all happy, and that was the biggest thing for me – they all smiled and they were all very gracious. The level of humanity I witnessed was evident in the homeless people that the owners of cafés fed, the stray dogs and cats that got a meal. It’s not an “every man for himself” culture. That memory will stay with me.
The backstreets was where we found the true heart of Istanbul. Its’ true people and its’ true meaning. And this is where the people truly shone. Everybody I met, everybody I photographed, they were lovely. They engaged so well – they shook my hand, they cuddled me. Their generosity knew no bounds. If you caught their eye and asked to photograph them, they gave you an open gesture as if to say “no problem”. It was a lovely experience. I didn’t have a single bad word or look from anyone – it endeared me to the place more than I thought it would.
The one thing I’d say I was reminded of on my trip was that, in a world of progression and evolution, humanity prevails. In our culture, everybody is lusting after the next handbag, the next gadget, the next best camera; is that really what life is about? Istanbul showed me the opposite; it was nice to be reminded of that. It took me back to a human trait I worry we’re losing as a civilisation, and it was a wonderful thing to witness. I loved it so much, you can see and feel it in the shots I’ve taken which, on a personal level, I feel is some of the best work I’ve ever done.
It’s impossible to pick a stand-out image– the characters I met had such expression and warmth and so many stories built into every line on their faces, from the old shoe shine guy who was on the same corner every day in the same clothes, to the fruit and veg stall owner who posed for his picture like a child in their first school photo. The images speak to me, each one evokes such strong memories and feelings of excitement, warmth and compassion – how do you choose between that?
Content by Keith Moss
Words by Kim West..