ISTANBUL – PORTRAIT IN FOUR SEASONS

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In January 2009 I went to Istanbul for the first time. Inspired by the history of Byzantine trade routes, the idea was to arrive by boat from Odessa, Ukraine. However, the economic crisis had just started and boat that I had intended to board would not leave port. As a result my first contact with Istanbul was at the Ataturk airport.

The few couple of days I then spent in this city lead me to some very preliminary conclusions; the vastness of this city is so enormous that it is impossible to grasp, the Haya Sofia truly is one of the world’s wonders, and those who wish to escape the crowds of millions, the honking cars or the heavy exhaust gas filled air can take a ferry to the Asian side of the Bosporus and wind down in Kadikoy.

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Conclusions that touched upon some essentials of this city, but how Istanbul was to be truly understood remained a mystery to me. Almost two years later I got the opportunity to work in Istanbul for a few months. During that period, the secrets of this city slowly revealed themselves to me; the beauty of Istanbul is not just to be found in the world famous mosques and palaces or between the remains from Byzantine times. No, the real beauty of Istanbul comes from its inhabitants, that in the midst of all the bustle are masters in the art of living.

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Perhaps it is exactly that tumult that forces them to appreciate so fully all the small things in life that make it so worthwhile; tasting some fresh plums while doing groceries, sipping tea while sitting on slabs of concrete watching ships cross the Bosporus while the sun sets behind the minarets of Sultanahmet on the European shore, enjoying a beer on one of the many roof terraces as night time begins, playing a board game after work with friends or someone that just happens to sit next to you, lie down in the grass under the trees in one of the large parks, or to blend in with the crowd walking down the two kilometer long Istaklal shopping street.

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By now it had been about a year and a half that I had spent amongst these lovers for life, observed how they seemingly moved through impenetrable crowds without effort.  The inhabitants of Istanbul are immigrants, from countries in the North and the East, like Russia, Ukraine and Iran, but nowadays also from the West, where the economic crises endures. They are also immigrants from all corners of Turkey, Laz from the Black Sea and Kurds from the East.

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The inhabitants of Istanbul avoid the busy, honking and rushing traffic with just as much ease as they maneuver through social and cultural contradictions; there is a tendency to suppress the extrovert appearance of women outside in the streets, yet the pages of many newspapers are covered with scarcely dressed models of international appeal, alcohol is a sin but so is fish without raki, no relationships before marriage but hidden behind their veils even the lips of the most chaste girls find their way to those of a beloved young man.

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The people of Istanbul are grateful. Şükretmek, to be grateful, is an expression you will hear more than once in a single conversation. They are a people whose passions are stronger than their virtues but who nevertheless make their way through the day unpretentiously, with attention for all the small things in life at the scale of a megacity. It is the beauty of these people that makes Istanbul such a special place and that I have tried to capture in the more than 125 images that together form this book.

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