Ask any street photographer what their favourite city is and invariably one rolls off their tongue automatically. For many, that city is Istanbul. Ask why and they'll usually tell you it's the enticing mix of east and west, Europe and Asia. Alas, not for me. I really don't see the appeal. I just don't get it. To me it's too much like southern Europe with a mosque on every corner. Far better to have one or the other, rather than some hybrid.
I did however, enjoy the inner city poverty stricken neighbouring suburbs of Balat and Fener. Balat was originally a middle class Jewish area while Fener was the corresponding Greek area. Both, following the loss of nearly all the Jewish and Greek inhabitants in the 1950s, have spiralled downward into a mix of cheap rent, run-down apartments often lying next to derelict mansions whose legal owners are probably unaware they even exist. The result is a congenial shabbiness of ruination, higgledy piggledy wooden buildings with balconies seemingly in danger of imminent collapse. It's somewhat reminiscent of a badly decayed San Francisco, or the backstreets of Naples after a special offer on the most colourful paints at the local hardware store. All of these modes of architecture share the love with a plethora of satellite dishes.
There's also an quiet ambience to this area that is hard to find in the rest of noisy, hectic Istanbul. For a start, no doubt because of the poverty, the streets are relatively car-free and so much the quieter for it. There's none of the annoying buzz-saw sounds of scooters and mopeds which characterise places like Marrakech or Sicilian old towns. Children are able to play all day in the middle of the road and photographers don't have to dodge cars. And there are very few tourists. Those that do find their way here tend to have a purpose that involves having a decent camera around their neck. So there are no carpets or trinkets on sale. Hardly anyone speaks English, or any other modern European language for that matter. Everyone just ignores the weird guy with the camera. But attempt a few words of Turkish, buy a coffee or a pastry and people quickly become your friend and shake your hand. And genuinely, not just for your money.
It won't last though. Both areas have been designated UNESCO heritage sites and European Union money has started to arrive along with artist's studios and a handful of trendy Western European-style coffee shops, especially noticeable around the area bordering the Great Horn. In 20 years time no doubt it'll still be worth seeing, but not for the same reasons.
More of my images from these streets can be found here
Big Istanbul smile and a colourful wall backdrop in the suburbs of Balat and Fener (I can never tell where one suburb changes to the other). A couple of coins in his pocket and he was even happier. A photo-essay of my time there can be found here
Stretching the pide dough. I like the contrast between his still face and the motion blur emanating from arms onto the dough. A pide is a kind of oval-shaped Turkish pizza with turned up edges that sometimes resembles a boat carrying minced meat. I spotted these guys rolling out the pide bases in a small shop in the Istanbul suburb of Balat and asked, via sign language, if I could document their work. They were very happy to let me (as were most people in Balat and the neighbouring suburb of Fener). I spent perhaps 20 minutes with them, sipping (yet another) Turkish coffee. More of my images from Balat and Fener can be found here