Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Istanbul Photo Essay

Let me preface this post by saying that I deviated from the instructions a little bit because I felt I could better express my Istanbul experience by writing a paragraph about each individual photo rather than just focusing on the last two. I hope that's alright!

When I read through this assignment for the first time, I knew immediately which picture I would use for the first prompt. This is a picture I took in the Blue Mosque of my own bare toes. Just the fact that I felt the need to take this picture speaks to the “otherness” I was experiencing in taking my shoes off to enter a religious space that was not my own. Being barefoot and being in a mosque is not a normal experience for me, nor is it for the majority of my friends, and so documenting and sharing this particular “culture shock”, so to speak, was my attempt to dilute that shock by inviting others to experience it with me in a way. Even the perspective of the shot speaks to the self-examination I was engaging in alongside and during the outward observation of the landmark itself.

For the second prompt, I’ve chosen this picture I took of a burnt-out building while we were walking around a poorer neighborhood with Orhan. When I was taking this picture, I felt a need to document the radical difference in the degree of disrepair and abandonment of this building compared to the dilapidated buildings I see while home in Seattle. At home, this kind of building would be torn down and removed or at least boarded up in an attempt to keep people from squatting or hurting themselves inside. In Istanbul however, it just sits among the other inhabited structures behind a wooden fence, a testament to the fact that if something is destroyed here its shell remains as a sign that the poorer neighborhoods do not even have the resources to get rid of their waste in a way.

This third image was taken inside Hagia Sophia and illustrates a moment when my camera was having difficulties handling the sunlight streaming through the windows. To me, this really highlights how cameras can distort the actuality of a space and artificially give focus to things that don’t draw focus in reality. In this picture, the light from the windows steals focus from the Madonna and Child, which while I experienced the setting was the true focus I was trying to capture. Unintentionally, I documented a different image than I thought I did, and only upon examining my pictures later did I realize this.

One morning, I woke up just after sunrise for some reason and couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I decided to take some pictures of early morning Istanbul. I snapped a picture of our familiar Galata Tower as I had been trying to capture it in several different settings. When I uploaded the pictures to the computer I noticed that the shadow of the minaret of the mosque next door to our hostel was perfectly visible on the blank wall of the building adjacent to the tower. This picture begs interpretations and inspires artistic significance, and to me I view the shadow of the minaret as the constant undercurrent of the Islamic faith that was essential to our experience of Istanbul.

The fifth picture was taken from the ferry we took across the Bosphorous strait to the Asian side of Istanbul. I saw the shipping cranes and was immediately reminded of when I was a little girl and thought the same style cranes at the Port of Seattle looked like brontosauruses. Recalling that memory, I took a picture of the cranes in Istanbul in an attempt to connect with the familiar, the “home”, and also with my childhood on some level. For me, taking the picture really affirmed and re-evoked the memory, bringing it forward in my thoughts rather than causing the memory to lose any of its quality or intrinsic properties. Instead, I think I have added to it by tying it to the new experience in Istanbul.

This picture of me in front of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church speaks to the themes of Didem’s lecture about migration. She had mentioned that migrants gain valuable social services from religious institutions when they can’t receive aid from the Turkish State, and that some people even convert to a new religion in an attempt to better utilize these services. This theme of religion as a point of unity and as a gateway to naturalization in a new country came up again and again while we were in Istanbul, and here I am in this photo attempting to plug in to my own faith as a source of comfort. Going to this Catholic church helped me understand even just a little bit what feelings of security and familiarity migrants feel when they are able to find religious sameness around them.

I chose the final picture of this assignment as a link to Orhan’s tour. With Juliya’s help, I created one image from two I took. The top of the image is a picture of carved graffiti in all different languages I found on a window ledge in the Hagia Sophia, and the bottom of the image is one that Julie took of modern spray paint graffiti right outside our hostel. To me, both of these acts of vandalism indicate an attempt by individuals to leave their mark on some part of the built environment they exist in, to make it their own when they lack the power to do so through other means. This artistic and emotional expression in both settings chronicles the power struggle between the citizens of Istanbul and authority and especially highlights the issue of ownership. Hagia Sophia is a cultural icon and national treasure but people desire to connect with it and clearly have for quite a long time. The graffiti on the protective metal screen over the storefront near our hostel is more common but no less meaningful as it illustrates the continuing struggle to leave a mark and have a presence when you feel you lack the resources or freedom to do so.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Berlin Research Ideas

Right at the beginning of this quarter, we read a piece called Guests and Aliens by Saskia Sassen which describes patterns in global human migration from a sociological perspective. In the excerpt we read, Sassen mentions that contrary to popular belief, those who immigrate usually aren't overjoyed to do so. In fact, people would not choose to leave their country of origin if they did not happen. Sassen cites migration data from the European Union to back up these statements, saying "only 5 million EU nationals out of a total population of well over 350 million reside in an EU  country which is not their country of origin", despite the freedom to do so and the differences in quality of life and economic opportunities between countries. In light of this observation, it seems as if people who are reluctant to leave their home countries but do, based on complex and push and pull factors, might try and insulate themselves in some way from the culture they are joining. At the same time, a complex cultural dynamic between the new culture and the old culture emerges, and I am interested in characterizing and exploring this dynamic as it relates to the Turkish-German immigration issues we're focusing on in this program. Ideally, I will use semi-structured interviews to construct an ethnography of this culture. I want to figure out which elements of the culture people emigrate from become thematized and prioritized when forming a new Turkish cultural identity within the new German culture. I also would like to find out what elements of German culture immigrants choose to adopt into their own individual identity.

Not only would I like to interview our guest speakers and perhaps people I meet over the duration of the trip, but I would also like to interview our group of students. I'm curious to see what elements of "American-ness" we're eager to shed in favor of blending in with German culture and which elements we choose to assert even more. I would like to ask people about things they miss, behaviors they find difficult to curb, and other relevant questions, if of course they agree :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sassen Reflection

In the first few pages of the reading, Sassen draws attention to the fact that people tend not to migrate from poorer to richer regions, even during periods when border supervision and immigration legislation were less strict. This observation really struck me as interesting, because it seems to be counterintuitive to many of the things one hears about immigration and migration, especially in the United States. I was also surprised to hear that few people living in the EU move to other EU countries with better job opportunities or better socioeconomic conditions when they are quite free to do so. To me, this highlights a concept that I think will be key when discussing "mobilizations of identity" this quarter and throughout the summer. That concept is that people, on the whole, are reluctant to leave their communities of origin unless some strong push and pull forces motivate them to do so. Remembering this concept will certainly be helpful when we begin talking about the strategies people use to acclimate to a new cultural climate and adapt or do not adapt to a new home. I can definitely see why people would want to group themselves in a particular district of  a new city and seek out those who have migrated from the same country, especially keeping in mind that many people are conflicted about leaving home. I can also see why purposeful, explicit cultural expression might become integral in a person's life when before it was just second nature. Unfortunately, as Sassen also brings up, this expression of culture might provoke a racialization response from the residents of the country to which these individuals migrated. Sassen posits that this racialization is more due to the "outsiderness" of the new group or individual than the actual cultural practices themselves. However, this racialization and suspicion of outsiders likely provokes an increased need for immigrants to insulate themselves from the new culture and thus a cycle may persist. I look forward to learning more about how this dynamic might exist in the Turkish culture in Berlin, perhaps how Berliners overcome the urge to judge or racialize, and even how Turkish immigrants blend their culture with that of Berlin and reinvent their identity.