• the blessing

    May 24th, 2014

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    Open a newspaper or turn on the television and you’ll probably get a pretty troubling picture of things in Turkey these days. Sometimes it’s enough to make an outsider want to switch off entirely. Fortunately, peppered in amongst the drama, life still presents many moments of genuine hope here on a daily basis. One such was a couple of weekends ago in Yeniköy. Over the last couple of years I’ve been truly fortunate to attend and enjoy the welcome of the local Rum (Byzantine Greek) community at various events and ceremonies. It’s something that grounds you. And witnessing the baptism of one small but treasured member of their community was a highpoint in my nine years in Turkey, moreover since it was something my family was welcomed in to share.

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    Until a couple of Sundays ago, I had never been fortunate enough to attend such a ceremony. It was truly interesting to watch. Religion gets a lot of bad press these days, but when you are part of such an event, it’s much easier to understand the contribution that belief and spirituality makes for a community. Especially in such a small and tightly knit community. Read More…

  • cansu & baskın

    April 15th, 2014

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    Don’t know about you, but I like a good party. However the party of parties is a wedding, so I have to say I like a good wedding even more. Today I thought I’d  reminisce about my favourite assignment of 2013: Cansu & Baskin’s Wedding. Like all the best jobs it was an opportunity to collaborate with some great talent, including a true friend and a great visual storyteller, Ahmet Polat — I certainly wouldn’t have been comfortable attempting to tell this grand a story without him. Over 400 guests! So let it be known that his shots feature prominently in this collection. Now that you know who I documented the event with, let’s introduce you to our two leads in this grand love story, the bride, Cansu, and the groom, Baskin.

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    Nice couple, no? If only every assignment found me working with such a fun pair. Not surprisingly, their family and friends were a class act and a spirited group of individuals too. When shooting a wedding, I like to include lots of the back story. It’s not simply about the poses, the set ups and I do moments. It’s as much about all the work and all the dear friends that brought two such worthy people together. That’s why it’s really important to document these moments in the lead up since they fly by so swiftly on the day itself. Read More…

  • the wonder of the pinewood

    January 19th, 2014

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    In Istanbul it’s increasingly difficult to remember that our world isn’t comprised entirely of concrete and glass. Luckily this city has a few surprises left in store. One of which is only a few hundred meters from Haci Osman Metro station. Rough and unkept, unlike Emirgan Park or Belgrad Forest, is a large, and largely unused, pine wood. Although it’s open to the public, it’s not open to cars — although, unfortunately, it did seem to be open to the  odd motorcycle.

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    A few hundred meters from the entrance, you begin to lose sight of anything but the stands of pine. A blue sky looms overhead, and sunlight filters through the branches. Soon the city disappears, and aside from the wail of the occasional siren, you hear little more than the wind through the trees. Stray a little from the beaten paths and you’ll soon feel the soft springy carpet of pine needles underfoot. It’s then that you can occupy yourself with the important things in life — such as locating the perfect pine cone.

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  • etched into the blue: tarabya

    October 22nd, 2013

    Tarabya Tree

    Grand Tarabya Hotel

    Fishing Boat Tarabya
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  • a strange climate

    June 16th, 2013

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    When I started this blog it was with the intention of pointing out things to appreciate, especially with regard to this city which has been my home for eight years. This city has brought me so many good things, and as a result I’ve wanted to pay it back. However, I’ve had something of a philosophical conundrum in the last week. It’s been difficult to go back to that same reality. In the space an hour these days I can find hope in some simple act of kindness from the people of this city, and lose it in the next second. I’m not usually into finger-pointing, but it’s usually in the moments when one of the city’s or country’s democratically elected leaders speaks. In the last hour there’s a man on the TV saying some very frightening things, about minorities, foreign interests, about the abuse of his head scarf-wearing sisters, about people having orgies in mosques. Unfortunately, this loud man is also the most powerful person in the country, the Prime Minister.

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    I’d already grown disheartened when I saw the Gezi Park protestors last Wednesday when these photos were taken. One minute there was sunshine, then cloud and thunder rumbling overhead. Different people seemed to be arguing within the camp. The previous 24 hours had been especially rough for the protestors when the police cleared Taksim Square and clouds of tear gas kept wafting into the camp which was supposed to be off limits. However, according To Amnesty International, at least 30 teargas canisters were fired into the camp. Support and supplies was still rolling in from around the city Wenesday, but the camp looked severely battered. Then I saw the police encamped around the Atatürk Kültür Merkezi which had been patched over with hundreds of banners a couple of days earlier and now had two large Turkish flags and a portrait of Atatürk draped over its facade. There was however, the assurance by public officials and the governor of Istanbul that Gezi Park’s peaceful encampment of protestors would remain untouched. Still, the exhausted looking police, kept inching closer and closer as a ragged and thin line of protestors looked on from their barricades above.

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    Last night the stalemate ended. Described as an “evacuation” by Istanbul’s governor, the Gezi Park camp was forcibly cleared with teargas and a mass action of police. Over a hundred people have been arrested and many are still unaccounted for. You can read Amnesty International’s press release for more on this. Hotels were gassed, hospitals hosed and today it seem that even volunteer doctors were being arrested. It would be easy to demonize the police’s excessive force, but several reports have now come out about the appalling working conditions the non-unionized riot police (and the police in general) are forced to serve under. Elif Batuman, who writes for the New Yorker, drew my attention to this when I read her piece, Lost In Taksim. There’s also a piece in The Guardian worth a look.

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    The question remains, though, about why the Prime Minister, the man ultimately responsible for the tough actions is so adamant and angry about widespread pot-banging and a largely peaceful protest, and why he would spew all this strange rhetoric against foreign media and interests, espousing the idea that there are shadowy circles and envious groups out there not wanting Turkey to succeed. Well for one, it’s often been an effective (not to mention incredibly ugly) tool in Turkey to blame minorities and stir up conspiracy theories when feeling threatened. In addition to the police, somebody else might need a time-out, as he’s demonstrating an inability to think clearly. It might be that he’s too used to hearing, “Yes, sir.” That’s the central premise of Professor Ian Robertson’s compelling theory: Ten Year Illness, a syndrome where the prolonged wielding of great power for a decade or more simply undermines one’s ability to think critically and make good decisions, thanks to a damaging neuro-chemical addiction. There’s also the possibility that Mr Erdogan hasn’t really caught up with the era he’s in, and despite claiming that he’s a servant and not a sultan, he’s still fighting an old battle in his mind. — that of secular elites attacking the Islamic establishment from which he draws his power base. For a compelling read, drop by Hugh Pope’s blog, and read Some old battles never die background on the Ottoman Barracks Mr Erdogan was so inspired to replicate at the expense of one of the city centre’s last green refuges.

    Still, there’s hope. All around the city including in Yeniköy, where I now sit many locals, including a woman with a headscarf, are banging pots and pans to show their disapproval about last night’s attack. Everywhere is Taksim, they chant. When a police car rolled by, the officers simply smiled and waved. We may all be a minority, but eventually that minority will make enough noise, and someone in charge could choose to really listen and not react with violence. It’s time.

  • what’s next, turkey?

    June 3rd, 2013

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    Yesterday people of all sorts gathered to continue the celebration of a victory in Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Left-wing, right-wing, liberal, conservative, nationalist, socialist … you name them. There was a constant flow of Turkish citizens of every age, ethnicity and subculture. There are banners with socialist slogans, nationalist slogans flying next to the rainbow GLBT flags everywhere. People pose to have their pictures taken on burned-out police cars and buses, while some diligent protestors sweep up the rubble and debris nearby. Some of it is theirs, some of it the police’s. However, this feels like a major victory for peaceful protestors who were violently abused by their police force and government (see previous post). It’s a strange victory, though, because it’s not being acknowledged as a defeat by the man and he government they took on. What started as a minor protest for a small park has rolled across the city and now the Republic. The defeated, however, aren’t acknowledging their first major blow in years. Why? Is it a case of denial? Or a strange case of not needing to? Perhaps it’s both.

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    Despite popular uprisings and protests all across Turkey, you could be forgiven if you thought it was business as usual if you were limited to watching Turkish language, local television. On CNN International, the lead stories include the protests all across Turkey. Turn to CNN Türk, for a more local perspective, and you can watch a documentary on penguins. To some extent this media silence is understandable, if unforgivable. Not only are most of the major media outlets owned by big business, who may or may not have their hands in the government’s pockets, but right now Turkey also has the distinction of having jailed more journalists in recent years than just about any other so-called “democratic” country in the region, if not the world. In fact, even more than China and Iran. Although many newspaper columnists lambasted the ruling AKP and its leader, Mr Erdogan, yesterday, broadcast TV has been mostly silent, except to air the Prime Minister’s statements of condemnation. Those have been some pretty incredible statements too.

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    In addition to referring to peaceful protestors as marauders, The Prime Minister — in what has to be one of the strangest interpretations of democracy I’ve heard in years — has stated that the dissent is anti-democratic because he was elected. Apparently a peaceful protest about the total lack of public consultation regarding a public space is unacceptable to Mr Erdogan. What people are protesting is not just the destruction of the last green spaces in the city, but a bizarre project involving an Ottoman Barracks/shopping mall, which would likely be built by a contractor friendly to the government. The Guardian/Observer ran a piece on this issue yesterday.

    What’s been more frightening, though, are statements like this, published in the online edition of the WSJ: ‘“Don’t compete with us…. If you gather 200,000 people, I can gather a million…. This event has been escalated beyond the park and become ideological,” Mr. Erdogan said of the protests, which intensified dramatically on Friday. “The police were there yesterday, they are there today, and will be there tomorrow…because Taksim cannot be a square where extremists run wild.”‘

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    I can tell you, firsthand, that there wasn’t a policeman in sight in Gezi Park or Taksim Square yesterday. It’s hard for me to remain dispassionate or clear-eyed even now that I’ve fully flushed the tear gas from my eyes with milk provided to me by a protestor on Saturday morning. This country is the birthplace of my wife, and the city of Istanbul the birthplace of my daughter. I’ve always admired the great physical courage of Turks, male or female, but what I admire most right now is the fact for the first time in eight years I’ve actually seen people from all different persuasions and ideologies, people who would not normally talk to one another, stand up to a man who appears to think democracy is a popularity contest he only has to win every five years while he divvies up public property in whatever manner he sees fit. He’s now claiming that there was no clear plan for a shopping mall, and that a mosque and possible opera house are in the works, and that he will do what he likes. You can read this in Hurriyet Daily.

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    This might be a canny move. Opposing a mosque, needed or not, will be far more divisive than opposing a shopping mall. The struggle is far from over. The question is: Can Mr Erdogan be stopped? He seems pretty confident that his opposition doesn’t have the votes to issue a real challenge. For now, he might be right. For an extremely well written, dispassionate analysis of the situation as it stands, I’d recommend Alexander Christie-Miller’s piece posted in the Bulent Journal. Last night protest continued to rage in Beşiktaş and across the nation. While Turkish TV, with the exception of Halk TV, remained largely quiet on the troubles. Meanwhile people honked their horns, banged on pots and shouted out their dissatisfaction. Tonight will likely be no different.

  • workshop wonderland

    May 9th, 2013

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    Yesterday I had an all too brief glimpse into the mind of one of the most fascinating creatives in Istanbul — someone who successfully blurs the line between art, architecture, design and craft — in what might well be the most distinctive style I’ve seen anywhere in years. At some point I will have to do a full exploration and profile of Sema Topaloglu’s Cibali workshop and showroom. Her work environment is a veritable wonderland of organic shapes and materials, prototypes and projects. You’d almost think you were standing in a special effects workshop for a motion picture, except that the materials are not made of foam and cardboard, and she’s not creating illusions, so much as fabricating a new physical reality in media such as Black Sea hardwood, raw iron, glass and marble. There are huge mushroom lamp models, wood blocks representing a neighbourhood planning project she’s working on, multi-level tables … glass and iron objects all coated in a layer of sawdust fresh from her usta‘s saw table. There are so many compelling things to look at that it’s hard to isolate your focus to one spot. Furniture swings open to reveal elaborate tool bits that look like a chest of ninja throwing stars. Although I’ve written about Sema before, she hasn’t been standing still for more than a nanosecond since I last saw her. She’s too busy blurring the lines between what creativity and professionalism, art and architecture, design and craft can be. Take a look at some of Sema’s projects here.

  • shadow & light: the colour of the space between us

    March 21st, 2013

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    The range of emotions you experience in a city like this makes a minute wear like a day, a day like a week and a … well you get the idea. Yet there’s nothing wrong with feeling, right? But how much can you confine to such a small time and space? Something could rupture. Hope it isn’t us.

  • modern lines, ottoman opulence: the grand tarabya

    March 13th, 2013

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    Today I had the chance to preview a hotel that I’ve been anticipating with a mixture of excitement and as well as apprehension. The Grand Tarabya is almost legend among a certain generation of Turks who once regularly visited it for afternoon tea. Although I have no history with the hotel, I am fascinated by it as its architecture and dimension are unique to a shoreline Bosphorus hotel. I am also now a resident of Tarabya, so its operation is of some importance to my neighbourhood’s wellbeing. Right now the marina and the shoreline are undergoing a huge transformation in which the Grand Tarabya is the focal point. This building’s curving, modern lines and height are something you’d be more likely to see along the Corniche in Beirut than on the shores of the Bosporus, where buildings generally don’t exceed a four-storey height limit. And at 12 floors, it makes quite a statement. There is simply nothing else quite like it along the European-Asian strait. While I have yet to sample the hotel’s full five-star service, the most standout aspects of this hotel are its views and its spa — which contains no less than 3 hamams in its 3000 metre footprint. While some of the decoration in the public areas might not be quite to my taste, the interior design is relatively restrained. The top three floors are not hotel, but residences with a much more understated, less Arabesque design flourish provided by local architectural practice, Tabanlioglu. All in all, I think the hotel’s opening is welcome progress for the neighbourhood and I look forward to experiencing the coffee shop, which is still in the works, as well as many of its other amenities. The only thing I question is whether or not this part of the city needs yet another fish restaurant. I guess we’ll see. While the hotel is operational now, the grand opening is slated for April. It’s certainly worth a look.

    THE GRAND TARABYA

    Haydar Aliyev Caddesi No:154 Tarabya, Istanbul +90 212 363 33 00

  • Lines in the silence

    March 11th, 2013

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    Quiet as a church. Swallowing footsteps like  thick murk. I know you’re holding back, hidden behind closed doors.  I’m also waiting, waiting for the shadow to cross the gleam beneath your door. You’re not moving. You’ve drawn a line in the silence. But inside there’s a big shout welling up. And I know you’re desperate to release it. No need to procrastinate, Istanbul. I’m ready. Tell me.