Istanbul – Black or White?

A café in Kadıköy. Photo: Magnus Sundberg / Kontinent
A café in Kadıköy. Photo: Magnus Sundberg / Kontinent

By Magnus Sundberg – There’s nothing new about being a photographer in this part of Istanbul. This hill with its enchanting view has been photographed and filmed many times. In the fifties, Istanbul was the second largest city in the film industry after Bollywood in India. But to talk of freedom of the press in today’s Turkey rings hollow. Walking late one afternoon in the Cihangir neighborhood, to take advantage of the light, I see a lady sitting with a hat  she appears to be straight out of a fifties movie. I take her portrait and she smiles indicating that it’s okay. The lady introduces herself as Aslikan and, together with her friend Demir, they invite me to tea. He works as a film producer for a company that, among other things, worked with a James Bond production. Now he and his colleagues just received word that the German company, they cooperate with, have cancelled the upcoming recording. A job that would have employed 40 people for just over two weeks. The constant fear of terrorist attacks had led to a changed perception of this magical city where East meets West.
Aslikan tells me how she has had to change her daily routine. She now avoids large crowds and, after the last attack in March (2016), just a few hundred meters from where she lives, she can also see how people have adjusted their daily schedules.
According to Aslikan, public transport has declined drastically since the last attack. She recounts a story of a man who made a habit of opening his jacket on entering the bus to indicate that he had nothing hidden.
Aslikan reveals that she now perceives her surroundings differently and that the thought that there are people intent on causing harm is strange to her.
We talk about the groups that pose the greatest threat in Istanbul today, Isis and the Kurds. Demir objects at once: “No, Erdogan is our greatest threat and he’s pushing the country down a more extreme Islamist path.” According to Demir, Isis comes second.
As for the Kurds, there really is no problem, it is more about the governments unwillingness to talk to them he believes.
Most recently two journalists were sentenced to hard labour for linking (through apparent photographic evidence) the Turkish security forces to Islamist groups in Syria. To try and work as an independent journalist covering the ongoing conflict between the government and the Kurdish separatist group PKK and the war being waged between them in southern Turkey is becoming increasingly difficult. In addition to this the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has filed police reports against 2,000 individuals that he believes to have personally insulted him, among those charged are more journalists.
This censorship has ramifications for all society, the fear of ‘doing wrong’ leads to self-censorship. “Be careful” warns a colleague I meet during my work. Several foreign journalists have already been forced to leave the country.
My wanderings around the city take me through Taksim Square and on to Geziparken, both symbolic spaces in the fight again oppression in Turkey as they have been central to protests against injustice during which demonstrators have endured tear gas and water cannons in recent years.
I order a cup of tea and try to collect my impressions while reading Orhan Pamuk’s book Istanbul in which he describes his home city. He pictures his city in black and white. I take the Nobel Prize winning author at his word and present my pictures of Istanbul 2016.