Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011 - 4 comments

Istanbul Photo Contest

I am the queen of procrastination. Not only that, I am a horrible succumber to the tyranny of the urgent, leaving those projects that I am truly passionate about until I "have time," which, of course, never happens.

A few months back, I read about a photo contest open only to foreigners. The subject was Istanbul. I thought, "Istanbul and photography - two of my most beloved things. This is for me!" I have thousands and thousands of photos of the city (and am always on a quest for more), so I thought surely I could come up with five photos to enter, and at least one would have a shot at winning. But, as happens, fall was crazy busy, and I kept putting it off.

On the first of November, I was up in Istanbul getting ready to see my mom off after her month here. I was going to have a few spare days in the city after that, and I thought, "Okay, I'll devote some time to this then, and I'll deliver my entry in plenty of time for the November 15th cutoff." That night, I just "happened" to look on the website for the contest, and I realized that all along I'd had the wrong deadline date in my head, and the contest, in fact, finished on November 1st - that day! It was, at this point, after 10 PM - too late to run down to the contest headquarters which was, ironically, just a 10 minute walk from where we were staying. I was kicking myself for being so careless and for procrastinating on something I'd been so excited about.

Still, I thought, if the contest were to close at midnight that night, maybe I could head over there first thing in the morning, CD in hand, smile sweetly and say in perfect Turkish, "It's still October 31st in my home time zone...." I'm pretty adept at talking myself in and out of things in Turkey, so it was worth a shot. So I scrounged my hard drive for five shots I was proud of, burnt them onto a CD (always carry extra blank CDs!) and set my alarm clock.

The next morning, I got up early, got the hotel reception guy to let me print off the entry form, deposited Mom at Starbucks (where we later played a killer last game of Speed Scrabble) and took off running down the road to the contest office. Googlemaps proved to be less helpful than I'd hoped, and it took me lots of wrong turns and parking attendants' shrugged shoulders before I finally located the building tucked away on a little back alley. Breathless, I ran up the stairs....only to find the office locked up tight. Blast.

I decided I'd come this far, I wasn't giving up now. I scribbled a polite note on the CD envelope asking them to please, pretty please forgive me for being "a few hours late" and accept my entry, wedged it under the door and hoped for the best.

For the next couple of weeks, I kept checking back on the site to see if they'd posted the winners, and then eventually just forgot about it. I figured that if I'd won, they would've emailed me. Sigh. But then, just after Christmas, I checked back again, and they'd posted the winning three shots! I was disappointed to see that none of mine were among them, but I figured that's what I get for not entering on time. But then, as I scrolled down a bit, I saw that they had chosen a number of runners up and were going to display their photos in an exhibition....and there was my name on the list! (That's mercy, I'm telling ya!)

I've yet to be able to learn which photos were chosen, but I do know that two of my five are going to be in an exhibition in the Taksim Metro Station (perhaps the busiest transport hub of the city) from March 1-20. I am so excited!!! I'm going to be up there for the opening on the 1st. If you're around, come check it out!

Here are my five entries:

Pigeon Chasers - Yeni Camii, Eminonu

Golden Train Station - Haydarpasa, Kadikoy

Next Door Neighbours - Kuzguncuk

Laundry Day - Beyoglu

Corner House - Balat

Check out the winners here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011 - 2 comments

Both Ends of the Bus Route

Starbucks Turkey has recently made an addition to its repertoire that makes living in this country even tastier. Stroopwafels - delectable Dutch caramel waffle cookies, perfect when left to soften on the rim of your coffee cup before being dunked into your steaming drink. No more special orders to friends passing through the Amsterdam Airport - we've got access right downtown!

On Friday as I was out doing errands, I stopped in at a Starbucks other than my "usual" one to pick up a stack of the cookies for a gathering at our house that night. Tired from running around the city all afternoon, I sat down and paused for a cup of tea. (I'd already exceeded my limit for coffee for the day, but I'm always up for an excuse to sit down at Starbucks!) As I observed the other patrons, I had a "we're not in Kansas anymore" moment. The fact that I was in a more upper-class part of town was evidenced by the complete lack of headscarves and the abundance of tight pants, aviators, and miniature, sweater-clad dogs tied to chair legs. The scene looked like something straight out of a New York cafe - the model/mafia/movie star/millionaire set, dressed to the nines, flirting and negotiating over their lattes and iPhones. Feeling rather underdressed myself, I laughed as I realized that those imaginary people I see on the Istanbul soap operas aren't so exaggerated after all - in fact, they are real, and me and my Earl Grey were surrounded by them!

Leaving the jumble of BMWs and Mercedes in the parking lot, I crossed the street and caught my bus home. As the kilometres clicked by, condos gave way to farm land, and miniskirts to village pants. When I got home, I headed straight up to the terrace with a book - a habit I am trying to create room for at the end of each day. But just as I was settling in, voices out in the olive grove behind our complex caught my attention. Squinting through the trees, I spotted a couple of crouching ladies and the flicker of a fire. Right about that time, the delicious smell of woodsmoke reached my nose and made my stomach growl. I grabbed my camera and headed out back to check out the action, thinking that this could be the opportunity for both interesting photos and an excuse not to have to make dinner.

Turns out I was right on both counts. I was greeted by the sight of four of my neighbour ladies, our gardener, and a crackling fire. The women formed an efficient assembly line, three of them mixing and kneading dough while the fourth cooked the flatbread over the fire. These particular women are the jokers of the complex, and they quickly had me laughing as they recounted their day of bread making. I was more interested in getting photos before the light faded, and they were more interested in feeding me. In the end, they won out and had me running into the house for more eggs and oil for them to make me some gozleme - flatbread filled with potatoes or cheese. When it got too dark to shoot, I took on the duty of keeping everyone's tea glasses filled while they loaded me up a plate full of gozleme to take home.

As I looked around at these ladies I love - ladies I live happily among, ladies I share my everyday life with - I tried to imagine them in the middle of the Starbucks crew of two hours prior. These two social groups likely originated from the very same Anatolian hometowns, but the juxtaposition of village pants and leather jackets was too much for even my imagination. They live an hour's drive and a world apart.

And me, in my jeans and a hoodie - I can sip a Caramel Macchiato at three o'clock and a cup of tea cooked over the fire at four. I not from either crowd, but I move - albeit awkwardly - amongst them both. I'm from a bus stop somewhere in between.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - 1 comment

Parallel brides: for some families in Turkey, matchmaking is an intricate dance

Really interesting article on the custom of "berdel," common in southeastern Turkey. Precise rules and conditions govern over a bride-swap between two families. (re-poseted from

It is a bright Sunday in the tiny Arab village of Lower Arbit in southeastern Turkey. Cheerful melodies issue from a cassette player powered by a tractor battery. I watch as Nuri and Turkan, brother and sister, join the snaking line of the halay dance in front of their house, over which flies a Turkish flag. Meanwhile, a few miles away, in the village of Mengalan, a similar scene must be unfolding for Mehmet and Feride, who are also brother and sister. All four are to be wed today: Nuri to Feride, and Mehmet to Turkan. ... Read more....

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saturday, January 08, 2011 - No comments

Chronicling the Everyday

I once watched a murder mystery where this guy would set up his camera on a tripod outside his shop every morning and take a picture of the small town's main street at precisely nine o'clock. He also took a picture every evening of what he was having for dinner - a slightly redundant habit, given that he ate the exact same thing every single day. (I suppose the plate changed....) Anyhow, in the end, they were able to solve the murder based on clues in the daily street shots, based on whose car was and wasn't parked where, I think.

I don't have any grand crime solving ambitions, but I've decided to take up a similar habit, at least for this year. I'm going to take a picture every day and post it as that day's photo, both on Facebook and in a continually progressing Shutterfly photo book that I'll be able to print at the end of the year. Being both a passionate chronicler and a firm believer in the fact that the grand beauty of our lives is made up of the million mundane moments of each day, this project is right up my alley. Plus, as a photographer, I think it will be a really good discipline cuz it will force me to carry my camera more often, to really see what's going on around me, and to be more intentional about planning shots. (Otherwise we'll end up with a whole lot of photos taken in my bedroom at 11 PM when I realize I haven't shot anything that day, and that could get old really fast!)

"They" always say that, when travelling or moving somewhere new, you should take lots of pictures in the first few days, otherwise you get used to your surroundings and things don't jump out at you as unique or interesting after awhile. What was originally fascinating becomes commonplace. I can definitely testify to this - I live in a city oozing with history, a destination tourists flock to in droves, and yet the Roman walls, the waters of the Mediterranean and the colourful bazaars have, in many ways, all blended into one image I flippantly call "home." My hope is that this project will force me to really notice what's around me and see it with fresh eyes.

I'm ashamed to say, I've already done the "11:00 in my bedroom" thing twice already, and it's only the end of the first week of the year! But today, knowing I needed something more interesting to show for this 24 hours than another shot of my desk, I shook off my need to never look like a tourist, reminded myself that I am a photographer, and took my camera with me to the pazar when I went to get my fruits and veggies. It reminded me how alive I feel when I'm shooting and interacting with those on the other side of the camera. Here's a couple of shots from the morning.

Here's to 2011 - 365 ordinary snapshots that will no doubt make up one unforgettable year.

Saturday, January 08, 2011 - No comments

Crowded Comfort

A few days ago, we got wind that a close friend was sick. Enter the custom of the "geçmiş olsun" visit. This phrase literally means, "May it pass quickly," and is said to someone who is ill. (I have ALWAYS wanted to say it to someone with a kidney stone! Though they probably wouldn't find it as funny as I would.)

Shutting off our North American instinct that tells us a person just wants to rest when they're sick, we grabbed a bunch of lemons from off our tree (her favourite, and perfect for mint-lemon-thyme tea - the classic Turkish cold-treatment) and headed over to the house. When we arrived, the sick friend in question was at the hospital getting a shot, but her husband, two of her kids, her aunt and uncle, her next-door neighbour and her two kids were all there waiting for her to get back, so we cozied up by the woodstove and joined in on the wait. After awhile, our friend arrived, accompanied by her two oldest kids and her grandson. That makes - count 'em - fourteen people in the living room. She promptly curled up on the couch, covered her head with a blanket, and tried to go to sleep. We all then proceeded to eat fruit and drink tea and have a grand old time, while she lay there in the midst of the noisy crowd feeling crummy.

This is one part of this culture I don't think I'll ever get used to. They say that when someone is sick, they mustn't be alone - they need other people around to be cheerful for them. Man, when I'm sick, all I want is my pillow, a cup of tea, a stack of movies and some peace and quiet. Leave your lemons at the door and be cheerful via email, please! Unless of course you come bearing chicken soup and Dr. Seuss. Then I might make an exception. :)