Istanbul is famous for its colour, and for good reason. The glittering azure of the Bosphorus, the orange hues of the spice market, the painstakingly crafted blue Iznik mosaics adorning the city’s ancient mosques, the rainbow of the old Jewish houses in Balat. It’s what captures the hearts of so many visitors to this city. But look a little closer and you’ll discover another side to Istanbul; a darker, seething city filled with melancholy. Armed with some black and white film in my little lomo camera, I tried to capture the spirit of the other Istanbul.
Orhan Pamuk, arguably Turkey’s most famous writer, has often said that the best time to see Istanbul is in the cold and rain. “I have always preferred the winter to the summer in Istanbul. I love the early evenings when autumn is slipping into winter, when the leafless trees are trembling in the North wind, and people in black coats and jackets are rushing home through the darkening streets. If this was a hugely sunny city I would be disappointed.”
Much of the literature set in Istanbul talks of hüzün, a special type of melancholy that often sets in on the city and its many residents. The dilapidated streets of Tarlabaşı, the decaying Ottoman mansions in Kasımpaşa, the lone simit seller calling out in the night, the smoke of the ferries crisscrossing the Bosphorus. It’s a special kind of beauty, and one the government is doing its best to try and stamp out.
Istanbul has long been the muse of writers and photographers much more talented than I, and perhaps nobody captures the city’s hüzün better than Ara Güler, one of the country’s most awarded photographers. He too captured Istanbul in black and white, evoking the city’s melancholy as it was torn between East and West during the Turkish Republic’s tumultuous first decades.