Ara Guler and My Istanbul

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In a recent interview with world famous Turkish photographer Ara Güler in Today’s Zaman (Nov 14, 2014) he said,
“The Istanbul that I lived in wasn’t Istanbul. Actually, I didn’t see Istanbul either. Istanbul was already over. And Pera is over, too. When the Russian invasion happened in 1917, the White Russians came here, that Asmalı Mescit was set up, there was a Bohemian life there and everyone headed there … When I look at the area today all I see is a pastane (patisserie) called Limon. People deplete themselves over time and that’s why we see the death of Istanbul. We are walking over a dead Istanbul and that’s almost how it’s going to smell … the stench of Istanbul’s filth has started to waft its way to us.”

Like many residents of Istanbul, Güler suffers from hüzün, the melancholy longing for a nostalgic past that never existed. Unlike most, he is aware of this and knows that his photographs capture an Istanbul that only exists in dreams. With the rapid rate of development underway now, the Istanbul many people love is under threat, and one day all that might be left are photographic simulations of a long lost reality.

The following photos were taken by my husband Kim Hewett. They represent some memories of my Istanbul, which even now is already different from the way it is shown here.

Read what Ara Guler has to say about Istanbul

Boats selling fish sandwiches at Eminönü in 2000. Sometimes the waves from the ferries were so strong you were in danger of falling in when you reached for your order.

Ist 01 Jan Eminonu shoeshiners

Shoe shine men in the back streets of Eminönü in 2001.

Ist 1996 beyazit

Open air markets in Beyazit Square in 2000. As well as fishing rods you could buy small antiques, bric-a-brac and secondhand clothing.

2. 2001 Sultanahmet

Tram passing büfe selling cigarettes, water, sweets and snacks on the way to Sultanahmet, 2001. The tram still works as does the büfe, but it has been cleaned up to attract more tourists.

Ist 01 Gulhane - Toilet stop

Toilets in Gülhane Park, 2001. The seated men are reading newspapers while waiting for their wives. Inside the ladies toilets there was a sofa, first aid stretcher, iron and ironing board. The interior was beautifully decorated with live palms and hand made rugs.

Ist 01 Gulhane park merrygo

Children having fun on hand-cranked merry-go-round, Gülhane Park, 2001. The last time I saw one of these was in 2012. It was chained to a tree, heavily rusted and disintegrating.

Ist 2000 Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Museum captured on a sunny winter’s day in 2000. Like all these photos it was taken by my husband Kim Hewett, using a 35mm SLR analog camera. None of these pictures has been enhanced in anyway.

Learn more about my experiences of life in Istanbul and Turkey, in my books available here.

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    1. Hi Serge,
      Thanks for your feedback. Ara Guler is indeed a great Turkish Armenian photographer. I love the way his pictures capture an Istanbul many people dream about, although it has changed almost completely!

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