Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Assignment #1: Looking Through Istanbul

Image #1: The Camera's Power
Two ducks rummaging through garbage.

Image #2: Otherness in Built Environment

Gentrified street in Istanbul created to resemble Paris.

Image #3: Limit of the Camera
Catholic church in Istanbul.

Image #4: Demanding Interpretation

Elderly woman staring out of her window in low income Turkish housing.

Image #5: Capturing the Deeply Personal
 Galata Tower and circling birds at night.

Images #6 & #7: Power, Inequality, and Modernity
 Tourist friendly, modernized main street in Istanbul.

 Turkish low income housing.

A highly complex city, Istanbul exists as a turnstile of juxtapositions: modernity vs. classical past, power vs. inequality, beauty vs. poverty, etc. While often these juxtapositions work in conjunction with each other, the city also seems to operate on contradictions. On one hand you have Turkey seen as a fragmented remnant of an empire versus Turkey seen as a nation striving to meet a Western sense of modernity, adopting both a more Westernized alphabet and attempting to replicate Western school systems and ways of life. There are both reminders of what used to be, and implications of what can be, scattered all around the city -- in fact, often times the two play geographical neighbors to one another. The final two photos selected were meant to highlight the implications of the many juxtapositions and contradictions of this intricate city.

The sixth image highlights the gentrification and rise to contemporary westernization in Istanbul. Within her lecture Jen discussed a struggle of Turkish identity in both a past context and modern one. This struggle sought to stick a label to what is a Turk. However, in actually, the idea of a perfect "Turk" is merely a construction and does not exist. Before coming to Istanbul, I held my own beliefs on what Turkish identity was and what Istanbul and the city's inhabitants would resemble. When I arrived in Istanbul, and specifically was able to make my way down this photographed street, my own personal beliefs of Turkey and Turkish identity were challenged.

Within this photo, Istanbul is seen as being plagued by modern conveniences, emerging as a long main street that holds Starbucks, a BBQ Chicken Franchise, and a French modeled school. In a sense, this street serves as both a metaphorical and literal pathway to 21st Century Western Modernity. Though the street tickles the senses from every which way, unlike most American streets (clubs stacked two stories high on top of restaurants) the conveniences it provides are not unlike those found in Western Europe or North America. On this street I saw many Turkish citizens and people who called Istanbul home dressed similar to myself, or young people conveying similar body language or interests. In a location such as Turkey, where creating an identity is a highly contested and complicated topic, I found it fascination to note the similarities of Turkish culture to mine. 

The strong prevalence of modernity captured in the sixth photo however, is contradicted within the seventh photo where the low income housing of Istanbul is depicted. The contemporary housing system of Istanbul seems to work in opposition to Western influence seen in the sixth photo. When compared to Western ideas of property, Turkish low income neighborhoods open up a new method to ownership.  The squatter culture that enables those who build on "unowned" land a chance at ownership of such land, is unlike Western ideas of property ownership. Such a practice allows the city to frequently reform, rebuild, and reorganize. However, the instability of property ownership within Istanbul overall, holds all "homeowners" at jeopardy. The Turkish state holds the right to take away property from owners in order to "modernize" and lift property values, displacing many Turkish homeowners to poorer neighborhoods farther away from their preformed communities.

While these two photos do work in opposition to one another, they also both seem to work together on the idea of power and inequality. Whether on the modernized main street of Istanbul, or the low income neighborhoods of Istanbul, interaction comes down to those who hold the power, and those who do not. In the sixth photo, those who succeed are those who can adapt to the changing culture. If they can interpret and respond to a Westernized way of life, they will not be left behind. Those who find themselves disoriented and struggle, will increasing find a larger gap between the old Istanbul and the new one, and therefore, will struggle to have their identity reinterpreted. These Turkish neighborhoods function in the same way -- the inhabitants can force themselves to adapt (raise the funds to keep their houses as to not be moved, etc), or they can find themselves displaced. In both circumstances (modernization of Turkish conveniences or the evolution of Turkish neighborhoods) the shifts take place at the discretion of the state and ultimately leave those communities without substantial power without voice. These two images, together in juxtaposition, work to convey such a contradiction and power struggle.