The oft-repeated phrase of countless travel guides declares that Istanbul is “a fusion of Europe and Asia”. But in a century when you can buy a Savile Row suit in Dubai or eat falafel in London, we might question whether the concepts of “East” and “West” have much meaning left. On the other hand, when browsing the bookshops it seems that almost all the travel literature on Istanbul has been written by Westerners – so why not ask the Easterners how Istanbul relates to their culture? Art Jameel and The Crossway Foundation have given six photographers from the Gulf region a chance to break the paradigm on a journey through Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Ankara.
If we listen to Farah Salem, one of the photographers on the trip, it seems that the Easterners see the same mixture in Turkey that Westerners tend to believe in. “I like the fact that Turkey is in between two worlds. It’s between the East and the West, and this is how I feel I am as a person; influenced by both worlds,” she told The Guide Istanbul.
Photographer Akram Al-Amoudi said, “The similarities and differences between our cultures are what I find to be the most interesting. I want to learn about how the Turkish photographers we are meeting managed to co-exist and thrive with the difficulties they faced. I want to explore their choices of subject matter and follow their journey that brought the Turkish photography scene to where it is today.”
For fellow participant Tyma Hezam, the trip opened up the potential of photography to create alternate worlds. “All my life I have taken photography as a form of literal documentation, but in this trip I'm learning how to create my own fantasy world through my lens. It is a distorted reality, but I am in control. This gives me such a beautiful feeling of liberty and power.”
Interestingly, for those coming straight from the Arab world, the notable difference in Turkey was its vibrant cultural environment, while for those coming from the West it seemed more communal and traditional. Rawan Alhusaini said, “The art scene here is much more lively and the photographers or artists seem to have a strong community amongst themselves. This is the opposite of Bahrain where the art scene is more exclusive and collaborations are far and few.” Meanwhile Tyma Hezam commented, “I have lived in the States for the past three years and I realised how individualistic and capitalistic everyone is there. Visiting Turkey reminded me of my Syrian childhood. It reminded me of the sense of community, hospitality, and richness in culture.”
One point that almost all the photographers agreed on was the diversity of Turkey’s landscape and the large variety of cultural institutions operating in the country. Along the way the photographers benefitted from workshops with local artistic figures such as Orhan Cem Çetin, Ali Taptık, Sevim Sancaktar, Zeynep Beler, Beril Gür, Özge Ersoy, and Bikem Ekberzade, who provided them with expert appraisals of their portfolios.