Some weeks ago, I went back to what had been Sulukule, the great Roma-quarter in the old city of Istanbul. A few years ago, it was completely bulldozed for an “urban transformation project”. Today, it is a very sad place – plain Toki-compounds with a neo-otoman touch. I strolled off to neighbouring Keçeci Karabaş Mahallesi, infamous for its aggression towards the Roma of Sulukule. I, too, got harassed again and again until suddenly, a squadron fighter jets flew by – summarizing the my mood on that cold day.
One of the most iconic images of my upcoming ‘Socotra’ book is the Landing of the Adventurers. I summons the whole objective of the project, the character of islands, the idea of travel, and the nature of exploration in one single photograph. I would like to share with you how I took that photograph.
It was during my second stay on Socotra that I met two German travellers. Actually, we first met at the airport in Sana’a already – and then again by chance on the beach of Di Hamri the next day. We got along well and they offered to go along with them for couple of days. One evening I invited them over to my hut and cooked pasta with shrimps for them and I generously shared the little wine I had brought along.
The next day, the next day, they planned to go to the beautiful lagoon of Sho’ab. It is quite remote and only reachable by foot or boat. They asked me along. The currents were strong that day and we were all glad to reach shore after an exhausting hour in the waves. Usually, tourists are brought to the far end of the beach, away from the hamlet of Qabahan. I planned to stay in the village for some days to photograph and to create a genealogy so our boatman directly headed for the settlement. Immediately, all the children gathered on the beach to welcome us. I was the first one to get out of the boat and looked back to take pictures of the others wading through the water. On the spur of a moment, one of the local boys saluted my travel companion. I snapped the photograph.
Somehow, this photograph summarizes the ‘personality’ of Istanbul quite well, I think. The beauty and rich new upper class, the marginalized hawkers, the macho men. There are no head scarves or mosques in the picture to go along the lines: ‘Turkey’s struggle between East and West’ and I am quite happy about that. I never liked to see Istanbul that way. But much more as: the world’s only continent-spanning metropolis with a lightness of being that is unique for a megapolis.
It was 9/11 2009 when Mieke and me where driving down the Coastal Highway in Maryland in a SUV so big that it saved us the hotel bill when we heard in the local radio about a parade of local fire-fighters to commemorate their colleagues that died that day in 2001. Out of curiosity, we started looking for this parade, driving our massive Ford Escape rental up and down Ocean City to look for the parade. But we didn’t see anything. Eventually, we got tired and decided to go for a walk on the beach.
Last year in summer I travelled to Iraq for a story for Neon magazine. On our way back out, we arrived late in the evening in the border town Zakho. The border crossing was closed for several hours already and we spend the night in the city. The next morning, before heading back to Diyarbakir in Turkey (for the flight to Istanbul) we did a small walk thorugh the city. At the river, a group of kids mobbed us, begging for money. We didn’t give anything but they wouldn’t stop. They then started diving into the river, from a cliff probably ten meters high into the mud-brown water. That’s when I took this picture. Actually, I needed several shots till I got this one but the boys kept diving for me. They knew they wouldn’t get any money – they dived just for the fame, for a good picture.
The communist era is not dead in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort Varna. It is not only all-concrete hotels lining up at the beach but also lovely dresses as the one worn by the woman in the picture reviving soviet charm. The fact that Varna is popular with Russian adds to this impression – in night times, the beach bars are populated by heavily tattooed pimps with their blond busted babes. Some people say it’s Russian mafia. I don’t want to say anything about that but present you just a harmless daytime beach scene.
I have a soft spot for oriental markets, that is beyond doubt. For me, a good market is not only a world by itself but every shop, store, or stand is. Strolling through the crowed alleys, looking left or right, suddenly you stand there: in front of a breathtaking market stall. It might be the scent of 1001 spices or the vibrant colours of camel leather absorbing you – but it can be mundane as in the case of the picture of the week, too: yarn, but in splendid shades making it a visual feast.
I took this picture last fall when working on my ‘Margins’ project on working poor in Istanbul. I went to the ferry terminal in Kadiköy on the Asian side to photograph shoe shine boys. There, I met Haydar. He dropped out of school early and tries hard to get by with rudimentary shoe shine services. Even with a shoe cleaning not more expensive than 3 Turkish Lira (approximately 1.50 Euro) it is still hard to find customers. However, Haydar wanted to have a picture taken of him in action and tried to convice passerbys to pose with him for a photogaph.