Monday, 15 April 2019

Rescuing Old Cement Tiles in Istanbul

In March 2019, I explored this tiny land plot between two apartment blocks in Beşiktaş, Istanbul.
 This area was likely the site of an older structure during the 19th century. My suspicions were confirmed when I came across this brightly-coloured old concrete tile by the roots of a tree.

 I dug out the tile. It was dazzling, and most likely dated to the last decade of the 19th century. Being familiar with Joel Canovas, the "tile hunter" of Barcelona, Spain and his exploits; I decided to rescue, restore and preserve this tile.

 I first took the tile to Mr. Selim Kan, a well-known knife-smith of Beşiktaş. Together we ground the surface of the tile and cleaned the rust that had accumulated over it in the intervening years.

 Next, I took the tile to a picture framer, and set it in a deep, white, wooden frame.

 I finally added a layer of varnish...

 ... and the century-old tile had found new life as an attractive tabletop ornament.

 My eyes were now open to "tile hunting". A few days later, I rescued one of these eclectic, green-orange-and-white tiles from the cellar of an old building.

 Once again I had it cleaned, polished and framed...


I also had this piece from an expedition in 2017, but I have yet to frame it...

 The beauty and legacy of these vanishing tiles are sadly being overlooked in Istanbul. Many buildings, dating from the 1870s to the 1970s have them, but they are fast disappearing. I had photographed and archived them whenever possible since the mid-2000s... Below is a tiny selection from my files.











A complete photo-archive of such old concrete tiles; alongside numerous other urban details and thousands of legacy hand-painted signs, can be found in my 2018 book, The Disappearing City: Hand-painted Apartment Signs and Architectural Details from 20th-Century Istanbul.

You can buy this book on Amazon.com here. I admit it is an expensive book, so here is a link where you can see the libraries that possess it.




Thursday, 1 November 2018

Halloween in Beşiktaş, Istanbul

On the last day of October, 2018, I found myself in Istanbul's young and bustling Beşiktaş district. Walking around in its tangle of streets, I noticed many people in fancy costumes. Yes, it was Halloween...

It occurred to me to photograph the Turkish Halloween revellers. I approached a group and asked if I could take pictures. To my surprise, they accepted, enthusiastically. Everyone wanted to be seen and appreciated that night.

I asked this band if there was a party close by. Turns out that there were two such occasions, one at a pub/concert hall named If, and the other at a rock-bar named Dorock.

I walked to the site of one such party; and was happily rewarded with the sight of numerous people in interesting, awkward or alluring costumes. Beşiktaş was a students' district, and many people had taken the excuse to break with the routine of everyday life...

There was a veritable street party around If, and the few other adjoining bars and clubs. All establishments opened out to a small square containing an unfortunately anus-shaped "monument", which I took the liberty of naming "Marble Arse".

I took up a mission for myself; to photograph everyone and anyone I saw in interesting clothes. I told everyone I was an "event photographer", and asked if they wanted their pictures taken. Many people enthusiastically accepted.

Two rough-looking "skull boys", taking advantage of Turkey's liberal street-drinking laws.

These guys had haphazardly applied some last-minute make-up.

A pirate, and Zorro, I presume?

Cookie monster, Pikachu and neon-wolf-man were some of the more meticulously-costumed partygoers.

These three girls were the companions of the colourful group above.

"Here honey, let me correct your make-up while you tacitly acknowledge my social supremacy."

A really cool couple with a cute paper spider.

These guys, members of the Istanbul Janissaries football team, needed no fancy make-up to look awesome.

I met Murat, a soft-spoken dude in Joker makeup, while taking pictures. We struck up a neat conversation, and supported by common interests and a similar outlook at life, he played Virgil to my Dante that night. Murat later departed to join a party in one of the venues around the square.

This Syrian dude introduced me to his African friend through a Skype call.

These two "angels" later introduced me to their friends, and they all posed together...


These three dudes were hastily improvising some last-minute costumes. One had a simple party mask on. The other had worn his shirt backwards, while the last one had borrowed a pharmacist's white coat.

One of the genuinely creepy sights that night was this old man, silently watching the crowd from a rooftop while grinning by himself.

Another Turkish Joker with his girlfriend.

The guy in the background was having a hard time pretending not to be staring at this beautiful demoness.

Some people found the "Marble Arse" genuinely interesting, and started posing next to it.

I was surprised to learn that this group of beautiful girls were actually from Iraq.

In one of the nearby bars, there was a stand, in which people could get "last-minute party makeup" done for the equivalent of five US dollars. There was an enormous line by the make-up stand.

One of the coolest guys in the crowd was this Gen-X Beetlejuice. He was having dinner with his girlfriend.

Pumpkins were hard to come by in Turkey, but someone had gone through the effort...

Here is the only actual pumpkin jack-o-lantern in Beşiktaş that night...

Two more guys in white face-paint...

...and yet two more. These dudes were more "serious customers". 

A tired-looking couple.

Heath Ledger's Joker, Jared Leto's Joker, and a generic witch, sharing cups of wine on the street.

This dude had incredibly realistic wounds, evidently the work of a professional make-up artist. He was accompanied by a beautiful Vampirella girlfriend, who did not want to be photographed.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Bad Wolf, I presume?

Suddenly, an UBER van came rolling-in, and out stepped two elegantly-dressed couples; these guys...

...and these two... They had a very positive attitude about them. The guy was wearing the graduation robe of ODTU, a well-established Turkish university in Ankara. (Thanks to my friend Durmuş Bayram for pointing this out.)

Another cool group of friends.

These handsome dudes had spent considerable effort and a lot of money on their DIY costumes. I hoped there was a contest somewhere that night, and I hoped that they won...

These two extremely charming ladies had opted for a "Mexican day-of-the-dead" look...

...and they were accompanied by these two gentlemen.

Some sort of monk with his witchy girlfriend.

This guy, wearing a horrible mask that completely obscured his face, was, in my opinion, the most pants-shittingly-scary character of the night - second only to the "Old Man of the Rooftops" I had seen beforehand.

A dark version of Friar Tuck?

This neat-looking demon-vampire couple stood out in their red capes.

I thought these two psychos had crafted a completely original look with their insane Salvador Dali masks and those fluorescent-red one-piece suits; but they were in fact dressed up as characters from Netflix' Casa de Papel. I was falling behind on my popular culture... 

A nun and a monk with lots of Gothic makeup.

Unicorn and Generic Princess, apathetically glued to their smartphones.

This girl was wearing one of the few Far-East-themed costumes that night.

I really liked the cyberpunk / 90s rave attitude that radiated from this group.

The Joker strikes again!

These two guys, one in a genuinely-off-putting Scream mask, were having their own, private party on a nearby street. They had simply plopped down their drinks on the sidewalk and started drinking, smoking and chatting.

Another, slightly dejected-looking Joker, waiting for his friends by a water stall.

These two queer guys were really upset because one of the party venues had adopted a "no entrance without girlfriends" rule. They had already paid for their tickets, and were now not being let in...

They were later joined by this cross-dressing friend, also upset at the venue's sexist entrance policy.

In time, I wandered away from the party circuit... I felt really happy to have encountered all these people, and taken their photographs. But now it was time to head home...

...but not without some dinner first.

I made my way to Sinop Mantı, that peerless establishment, and ordered a round of "the usual"; Turkish ravioli sprinkled with ground walnuts and soaked thoroughly with warm, molten butter.

What a great night it was! 

Halloween is a relatively new tradition in Turkey, and is mostly adopted by young, educated people in the cities. It is, however, not without precedent. Until the mid-20th-century, Istanbul was home to the Greek apokries (αποκριες, apukurya) festival, a three-week period of festivities before the commencement of Orthodox lent. The then-many Greek residents would dress up in fancy costumes, and their districts would have an overall festive atmosphere.


Apokries disappeared from Istanbul with the departure of the city's Greek community. 

But recently, another, independent folk tradition of creepy costume revelry has been resurrected in Turkey's Thracian provinces. Called Bocuk, this night is held around January, and involves people dressed up as ghosts and demons passing out a special kind of pumpkin dessert to passers-by.


In this, it has an unusual twist on the "trick-or-treat" of the Western Halloween tradition. Bocuk has been hailed as a "thousand-year-old Turkic tradition", and is probably rooted in pagan rituals in the distant past.

***

On a side note, I want to point out how any narrative featuring Halloween revelers (or punks, or heavy metal enthusiasts, basically anyone "different") set in Turkey inevitably leads to questions about youth, politics, and future. In more opportunistically-written articles, the specter of "oppression" is invoked; the straw men of "authoritarianism" and "nationalism" are inevitably trotted out and castigated; fingers are pointed, and the Journalist ends his or her piece with fateful words about "the Country's Future"... 

What a load of pap. I find these approaches extremely stupid - if not downright nefarious. In Turkey, like everywhere else, everyday life is mostly divorced from politics or world opinion. I hope my snapshots of Istanbul in Halloween could give you a sense of ordinary - if frivolous - occurrences in this interesting part of the world.