"If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul." Alphonse de Lamartine
I arrived in the oldest part of Istanbul, Sultanahmet, at a cheap, run down, but friendly hotel. Istanbul is a new city for me, one on my long running adventure of shooting cities at dawn. I was excited to be moving east and have a change from the pretty European cities I'd been exploring. Istanbul is a hard city to get a handle on. It's vast, like London, with the buildings and the people of each neighbourhood changing dramatically - the whole feel of an area is different to the last.
Istanbul is home to over 14million people, but at 4 or 5am on a May morning, when the sun is breaking through the midnight blue sky, there is virtually no one around. This usually chaotic and overwhelming city has a serenity and peace that is breathtaking. There is a feeling of complete freedom as though the city is almost completely mine to explore, like everyone who lives here has taken a break, giving me the streets and epic vistas to enjoy on my own.
I wonder if the fact that I'm half Greek is why I feel so at home in this ancient former empire. The fading grandeur of cities like Istanbul and Venice really appeal to me. On the surface I am a slow-walking (say these fast-walking Londoners of my adopted home city), friendly Californian, most at home in shorts. But underneath, I can feel a deep stirring as I walk through the ancient streets of cities like Istanbul and Venice, their empires long gone, a crumbling beauty glinting out at me through the weight of history and the seeping disappointment in man's repetitive mistakes.
I photograph dawn in the most part because of the incredible, almost ethereal light when the sun rises, as well as the fact that in spring and summer dawn arrives when the streets and the city are empty. But there is also a deep, almost primal excitement at watching the rebirth of the day. There is a feeling of hope and possibility. Life is ahead of us. The mistakes of yesterday are long gone; the mistakes of today have yet to be made.
"All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered."
― Kenneth Grahame
I don't like busy streets, they stress me out, but I love cities. The history, architecture and how unique each city is to its location, culture and people. That's what I want to capture with this project - the city as it is, not the crazy mass of its people.
Over the past couple of years I have photographed London, Paris, Venice (with a pit stop in Mexico City). I head back west this month to Rome and I have my sights set next on New York, to get another perspective of a city at first light (I know my people, they get up early, so I'm expecting more people on the streets in New York).
Each city I've photographed has its own very distinct personality and I love discovering what that is by walking its streets. I was really drawn to Istanbul when I read about the concept of hüzün. Painter Gabrielle Reeves describes hüzün as "not the melancholy of a single person, but a dark mood shared by millions of people together, by the entire city of Istanbul".
'According to Orhan Pamuk, the melancholy of Istanbul is hüzün, a Turkish word whose Arabic root (it appears five times in the Koran) denotes a feeling of deep spiritual loss but also a hopeful way of looking at life, "a state of mind that is ultimately as life-affirming as it is negating."' Washington Post
Apart from the fact that it sounds just like my own personality, it is completely different to what I encountered in other cities like London and Paris. I loved how Pamuk also described hüzün, in a way I can still relate to, as "the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window."
Istanbul has been an exhilarating experience for me and I can't wait to return in October to explore the city more.