How I drove to (and through) Istanbul with two friends.

All the images included in this article are taken by me, therefore feel free to advance any critique. The project can also be found on behance.

Back in August 2014 I was in either London, Brugge or Strasbourg with i Birbanti – the amateur theatre company I work for as a technician – and my friend said “Let’s go to Istanbul for New Year’s Eve”. Either, as I cannot recall exactly where and when he made such a proclama, since it was not indeed considered much weighed as a proposition; it is even hard for me to locate ourselves through our trip to London for the Camden Fringe Festival when my friend foresaw what he would have then neatly planned once the state of soberness had welcomed him back in Milan, as such an exclamation sure seemed an ideal mind image of his, depicting what would have been our ‘next breakaway from ordinariness’. Nevertheless it first grew to be a desire – contagious among the three of us, who grew together for almost twenty years – and then a proper plan.

We would have driven through Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria to land in Turkey, resting online twice – in Zagreb and Sofija. We longed to visit hammams, the Grand Bazaar, hooka bars and any place that could provide us with food, but I myself mostly wanted to roam the streets with my camera.

Photography had no proper role in my life until last autumn: in September I decided to shoot solely on film – I wrote an article in Italian about such decision – as I grew more and more detached from the kind of aesthetics that mark the difference between digital and analog photography. Its nature, logic and texture set themselves apart from what I now feel comfortable to tell that pleases my eye. Until then I had the belief that photography could be a way to express myself, but truth was that its voice was feeble. Might it be born out of a mixed sense of smugness and willfulness, but, since the decision was made, the feeling of a certain lacking enthusiasm was gone. I am not against progress itself – as it is natural – and I am not going to disown my digital photography production, but still they did not satisfy me entirely, therefore I cannot consider them to have any true value. That being said, I am still deeply fond of some of my digital pictures, but I still had to move on.

I needed and still aim to develop a unique voice, as I was lacking in consistency. I moved from a sickening and manic use of isolation – a technique that had never been original, but that is close to my core and I now confined to the realm of a portrait project that I am working on – to a more solid use of zone-focusing and to sticking to only one lens (i.e. my Leitz Super Angulon 21mm ƒ/4). I am also trying to experiment more with layers, although not at the expenses of composition.

I learned what many others claimed and proclaimed: having to wait to see the pictures that has just been taken, being bound to a medium that is unnaturally brought to being digitally over-edited, and being able to root back to when pictures could be touched can move something in certain people. I believe that this choice of mine’s  main purpose is to give myself a stronger personal hardship, as no greater result is assured by shifting from one medium to the other, but my own learning experience can level up.

I ended up in Istanbul – a notoriously colorful city – equipped with a bag of Bergger BRF400 monochrome film, and ready to indulge in shooting at any man, cat, dog, streak of light and shadow, or crowd I crossed my path with. I took pictures while exploring the city’s mazing alleys and bipolar identity – sometimes along with my friends and some other times while taking slowly-slowly paced walks by myself, as I usually don’t rush through streets, rather instead aiming at focusing more on my surroundings.

I had previously been in Istanbul once, but was about 15 years old and with my parents – it was one of several stops in a cruise. I had no chance to take pictures, neither I had developed any real inclination towards photography. This once, I was 25 years old, more skilled and more passionate about it, therefore I wanted to try my best to give form to what the city and its people had to whisper to a visitor’s ear.

The climate definitely was not forgiving during our stay and we had to fight with furious rain and wind, followed by a rather cold air for a land whose December usually is fairly warm compared to other countries in Europe. Layers of clothes impaired our movement, and I have to admit that was concerned in avoiding my camera from getting wet and then molded, but patience, a methodical process (and umbrellas) were key in allowing me to take pictures almost every time I wanted to.

I was lucky enough to encounter several kind of environments that elicit photographic interest and to have travel companions who are not tourist-sites-whores, therefore we pleasantly went to part of the cities that are notably interesting, but did not get caught in long-standing lines, as many others instead did.

What I enjoy about travelling is living the city as if it was my own, or even fancing the idea of being one of the cities own inhabitants. I would rather do the same things as the residents, instead of being forced to feel the pressure, sweat and noise of tourists’ crowds. Nobody enjoys that feeling, but many come to terms with it in order to visit the sights. I try hard not to stand out as a foreigner, but a clearly caucasian appearance and a bulky camera – not as much as many others, but still bulky enough – sure do not make it easy for me to pretend being a resident in exotic countries. Still, attitude sure helps: I usually appreciated when people are not intrusive or clumsy, therefore I presume that others might feel the same way about it. Targeting a picture subject is not a matter of colliding with the normal course of its life, neither that of being suspicious in trying to come unnoticed, as either of such solutions only end up affecting the scene, unless that is what you are aiming for. My kind of photography does not either want to catch scenes by being unnoticed or to be at the centre of the scene; it wishes more to catch interactions between people and I am a person myself, therefore I have to avoid standing out as a tourist to pose for or to hide from.

I did not take as many pictures as I would have wanted to, but those that I took satisfy me and among them there are few which I really believe to be representative of the Istanbul that I visited, if not Istanbul at whole. There are views of the many animals and people that inhabit the city’s alleys, where the first ones roam and the latter ones sell jewels, clothes, food and junk. There are snapshots of bunches of objects and people, of men staring at me and staring at each other, and of my travel companions depicted in unorthodox holiday images.

The feeling of the days that I spent in Istanbul is blissful, as we managed to spot those places, people and moments where and when we could flee the clutter that was not our element of interest. People did not try to hide their feelings from the lens, neither they tried to show off what society expects citizen of tourist sites to be like: backs do not lie by standing straight, and eyes never leave the frame. Hands do not stop what they might be doing, neither they pretend to be busy.

The weakness of these pictures is that they do not tell a story that cannot be replicated, but they do tell a story that I experienced myself, therefore they are truthful to my memory and warm to my sight.

Many thanks to Micol Piovosi that reviewed this article.

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All the images included in this article were shot on Bergger BRF400 film in a Nikon FM2 with a Leitz 21mm ƒ/4 lens, home-developed in 1+1 ID-11, printed in a darkroom by Jacopo Anti, and then scanned.

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