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.