In some ways all art tells a story, but the artist must choose what they wish to portray and the viewer must decide what they see; meaning the story gets twisted and turned until everyone has their individual version. We met with documentary photographer, Mustafa Seven, at his first solo exhibition, Tek (Single) at Galeri Eksen, in prosperous Nişantaşı, where he explained that he doesn’t like to talk but prefers to speak with photography. “For me, photography is my means to tell a story, my way of explaining how I feel. I have a lot to say, but I don’t like to use words. Instead, the camera is my vehicle to express myself.”
This also explains why there are no texts accompanying the images. Although there is a story behind each photograph, Mustafa wants people to find their own story. “People try and find something that relates to their own life, so the story they see depends on their background. I don’t want to possess the story or draw a route for the viewer; they have to find their own way.”
He pointed to a striking image of an armless mannequin standing naked on the derelict Old Galata Bridge, looking out across the Golden Horn. “Many people assume I placed this there for the photograph, but in fact there is a homeless man who lives on the bridge and moves the mannequins around himself. They’re his friends. I don’t want to tell people this, I want them to ask themselves why it is there.”
Mustafa also wants viewers to spend time with each image, not just see it as a snapshot but to really experience the daily lives he depicts, he wants to make them think. “I find it interesting to hear what people have to say about my photos. Sometimes they catch a detail I haven't seen before, or see points I didn’t intend to make and create a whole story around them.”
It’s true that the photos are full of stories , a horse grazing on scrubland overlooking Ayvansaray, a man addressing a seagull by his feet in Fener, a woman looking out from window in Karagümrük; locations that are familiar but stories that are not. He told us “I try to show beyond what we imagine when we think of a place”. For example, there is a man washing a horse with a hosepipe in Maslak, an area more commonly associated with its commercial and business centers. In another image Kilyos beach, Istanbul’s summer playground is made to look desolate, bleak and unwelcoming.
Mustafa tends to focus on the lives of people who “may not be economically strong, but they are happy inside. They live their lives charismatically. I feel closer to them, and prefer to show a more realistic side of life. I can’t create a story when looking at a shopping mall.” He believes that, “it’s the person that brings the life, the emotion, and the mood to a photograph. Without them the images are cold and harder to read.” This exhibition is highly recommended for anyone who believes in the art of story-telling and wants to see the real Istanbul - make sure you visit Galeri Eksen before March 28th.
Mustafa Seven has attracted international fame through his use of photo-sharing and social networking website, Instagram, on which he has 268,000 followers. Check out his feed here and our Instagram portrait of him at his exhibition here.