March 21, 2012

Istanbul at the Crossroad

It is late afternoon in historic Taksim neighborhood of Istanbul and Kafe Ara is full of local intellectuals. The walls are decorated with enormous black and white photographs depicting old days of the city: ancient fishing boats, exhausted laborers arriving to the jetty, historic trams crawling through Galata Bridge. All these photos were taken by one of the greatest Turkish photographers of Armenian origin – Mr. Ara Guler – now more than 90 years old.

As I write this article, Mr. Guler is sitting at the large wooden table right next to me. He is still loved and popular, never short of company of both young and old people who ask him to autograph his books and to share his thoughts on this city.

Once in a while we look at each other and smile. At one point he begins eyeing my Leica camera, then he winks at me: “I have 50 of them at home. I even knew personally the family… You know… After they went digital, it is not the same…” I still love Leicas, but I politely agree with the old master.

While his work is considered phenomenal, as one of the great symbols of Istanbul, for many inhabitants and visitors alike it is synonymous with nostalgia and melancholy. Taksim neighborhood is constantly changing. While still full of history and architectural beauty, it became one of the most expensive places on earth, and according to the great Turkish Marxist filmmaker Serkan Koc – one of the ‘most capitalist’.

“Istanbul from my childhood has changed, it already disappeared”, laments Ara Guler. “The new construction is everywhere. Even when you think about Istanbul some 50 years ago, it was already gone. We have been living in the city called Istanbul, but it is just imaginary city. The real city went mad; its culture is finished. New generations – they are all empty. I see emptiness all around me.”

Read more on Today's Zaman: Istanbul at the Crossroad


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