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Istanbul, David Gross

Istanbul, David Gross

As I discussed in an earlier post, we’ve run into more logistical hoops in doing this project than we had hoped. In fact, part of the challenge so far has been figuring out which permissions we actually need to get, and from whom. Bureaucratic details make for a lousy blog entry, so let me just say this: it’s been difficult for me, as a photographer, to spend so much time discussing the project, and so little time making photographs.

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Therefore, I approached our meeting this morning with frustration and mild annoyance. We were meeting with an organization in Istanbul that provides legal services to refugees in Turkey. (In this post, I will not be naming the organizations we consulted. The politics surrounding everything to do with refugees is so sensitive that we’ve decided to keep their names off this blog post.)

A boarded-up house with young children living in it, most likely a Syrian family, David Gross.

A boarded-up house with young children living in it, most likely a Syrian family, David Gross.

As it turned out, we finally found answers to many of our remaining questions. We also got important contact information for people working in Gaziantep, in South-Eastern Turkey, where there is a large refugee camp, as well as a large Syrian population living outside the camp. And, it looks like we might be holding our first art therapy sessions early next week. Finally!

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Istanbul, Mieke Strand

In fact, things seem to be coming together for our move to southern Turkey. We met again last night with a German journalist who covers the Arab world for DPA in Germany. She is looking into connecting us with a school she supports in Gaziantep, which would help us enormously.

Birds at sunset, David Gross

Birds at sunset, David Gross

The photos I’m posting today are from a walk David & I took this afternoon, once the meetings were finally over. It is such a relief to me to walk and photograph the city after all the negotiations. I’m looking forward to starting the art therapy and photography portions of the project…soon.

Recycling, Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Recycling, Istanbul, Mieke Strand

One additional note: we’ve managed to weave our way through the intricacies of a foreign bureaucracy only thanks to the help of a few wonderful folks. In particular, Ezgi Içöz has helped us enormously this week. Ezgi, in case loyal blog readers have forgotten, is a Turkish art therapist who did her educational training in San Francisco. She speaks perfect English, and has done a lot of work translating for us. She is also the reason we were finally able to get the meeting we had this morning, after trying for several weeks. And she has provided incredible moral support from the beginning. We are so thrilled to be working with her. Thank you Ezgi!

A cat sits on a wall in Istanbul, David Gross

A cat sits on a wall in Istanbul, David Gross

And finally, thanks to our friend George Georgiou for sending us a link to this article in The Guardian on the crisis that Syrian refugee children are facing today. It reminds us why the work of therapists like Ezgi is so important.

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke

We visited two Syrian schools in Istanbul today. There is much to say — not everything is how we expected! — but for now, we are exhausted, so we will just post this short entry. (David says, “If I’m writing oddly, it’s because my language skills are all twisted up. I’ve been speaking pidgin Turkish all day, when I wasn’t listening to long Arabic dialogs.”)

At the first school we visited today in Istanbul we were shown a few small drawings. Two struck us as unusual. The first is a tiny drawing at the bottom of the page, in response to the question, what would you like to be? The child drew a picture of a doctor…with a dead patient.

A child's drawing on a development test. The drawing is of what the child wishes to become, a doctor in this case. The patient, however, is already dead.

A child’s drawing on a development test. The drawing is of what the child wishes to become, a doctor in this case. The patient, however, is already dead.

The second drawing was done elsewhere, and it is of a refugee camp for Syrians inside Turkey. The artist is an 11-year-old girl who is now working in a clothing store to make money, we were told.

The drawing of a refugee camp for Syrians in Turkey by an 11-year-old girl. She now works in a clothing store in Istanbul to make money.

The drawing of a refugee camp for Syrians in Turkey by an 11-year-old girl. She now works in a clothing store in Istanbul to make money.

After visiting our second school we had to rush to an internet cafe so our fixer/interpreter, Khalid, could send a photo to some government office before closing time. There, not so far from the Syrian school filled with shell-shocked children, I saw a group of Turkish (probably Kurdish) children playing video war games….

Children play war games in an internet cafe not far from a Syrian school.

Children play war games in an internet cafe not far from a Syrian school.

A Turkish child in an internet cafe not far from the Syrian school plays war games on a computer.

A Turkish child in an internet cafe not far from the Syrian school plays war games on a computer.

Görüşürüz! -David

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Terrace in Istanbul, Mieke Strand (iPhone)

Exciting news! Through one of David’s acquaintances, we met a German journalist based here in Istanbul. She has been covering the Syrian schools opening both along the border and here in Istanbul. She’s connected us with the director of one of those schools, and we’re meeting with him tomorrow. He is enthusiastic about the project, and knows a few different schools that might be interested in working with us.

Progress!

David took his lighting gear to the streets today to play with a couple of ideas. We wound up right along the Golden Horn near sunset, not far from Galata Bridge.

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Mieke in Istanbul, David Gross
(Olympus OM-D, 25mm lens, 1/80 sec at f/8.0, ISO 200.
Flash shooting through small umbrella, with approx. 1/4 CTO orange)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mieke in Istanbul, David Gross
(Olympus OM-D, 25mm lens, 1/80 sec at f/9.0, ISO 200.
Flash shooting through small umbrella, with approx. 1/4 CTO orange)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mieke in Istanbul, David Gross
(Olympus OM-D, 25mm lens, 1/80 sec at f/9.0, ISO 200.
Flash shooting through small umbrella, with approx. 1/4 CTO orange) 

David’s been experimenting with a style of lighting similar to that in many Renaissance paintings. Here’s an image from today that he played with a bit:
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Mieke in Istanbul, David Gross
(Olympus OM-D, 25mm lens, 1/80 sec at f/9.0, ISO 200.
Flash shooting through small umbrella, with approx. 1/4 CTO orange)
Processed through SnapSeed for texture.

Mieke Strand in Istanbul. Processed through SnapSeed for texture.

Mieke in Istanbul, David Gross
(Olympus OM-D, 25mm lens, 1/80 sec at f/9.0, ISO 200.
Flash shooting through small umbrella, with approx. 1/4 CTO orange)
Processed through SnapSeed for texture.

While David was shooting test portraits of me, an Italian couple asked him to take their photo, with their photo and his lights. He did, and they gladly posed for a few more photos for David. This is Simone:

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Simone, David Gross
(Olympus OM-D, 25mm lens, 1/160 sec at f/6.3, ISO 200.
Flash shooting through small umbrella, with approx. 1/4 CTO orange)

In a side note, I started watching a few hilarious youtube videos yesterday that claim to teach you how to pose your portrait subjects. I passed on what I learned, with a heavy dose of sarcasm, to David. However, he used some of it in this photo of Simone, and it actually works. Lesson learned.

As I was posing for David, a group of Turkish photography students (we think) decided to take the opportunity to photograph both me and the sunset. Here’s what it looked like from my perspective:

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Photography students, Istanbul, Mieke Strand, iPhone

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Photography students, Istanbul, Mieke Strand, iPhone

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Photography students, Istanbul, Mieke Strand, iPhone

I love it!

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke

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Istanbul at night, David Gross (techie info: 17mm (35mm equivalent) lens, 1/30 sec @ f/3.5 @ 8000 ASA, Olympus OM-D. Prefocused at 15 feet walking through Istanbul at night, shooting from the waist. Processed as FujiColor Press 800 film in Lightroom.)

Actually, a better title for this post would be “One Step Back, Two Steps Forward”; things looked a bit dour yesterday morning, but ended on a more positive note.

We learned early yesterday, through our Turkish partners, that we will have to be connected to a non-profit or some other governmental group in order to do this work in Turkey. Ever since the Gezi park protests this past year, Istanbullas are wary of crossing paths with the government.  Despite the fact that we intentionally designed our project to be apolitical, this doesn’t keep others from potentially seeing it through a political lens. For example, the simple fact that we are working with Syrian refugees can be seen by some as political; there is a belief that the refugees have been given easy entry to Turkey in the hopes that they will vote for a given party in the next elections.

However, as luck would have it, we met yesterday with Çare-Der, a non-profit organization here in Istanbul that specializes in mental health for teenagers and adolescents. Ezgi, one of our art therapists, works with Çare-Der, and was able to set up a meeting for us. They were incredibly generous with their time, and had thoughtful ideas on how to collaborate with us. We’ll hear more from them in a few days, but we’re hoping to work with them.

In other good news, we met yesterday with a Syrian photographer living in Istanbul, Khalid Eid. In addition to his experience as a photographer, Khalid worked recently in Syria with an NGO that does interactive theater with children. He has a few connections to Syrian schools in Turkey, and may be able to help us set up our therapy sessions in one of them. Furthermore, he will be able to translate the sessions for the kids, which is a huge help to us. Khalid’s experience working with children is invaluable, and he had wonderfully creative ideas to contribute to our plans for how to organize the art sessions. We’re very excited to be working with him.

And last but not least, I feel remiss that we’ve been in Istanbul for over a week and have yet to post a photo of a cat. Cats are everywhere in the streets here, and the locals put out food for them daily. So here we go, if only to get this out of my system:

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Istanbul, Mieke Strand (iPhone)

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke

It is my belief that if you stay in any foreign country long enough, you will eventually have to face a series of bureaucratic hurdles. For us, that day was today. I will spare you the full story, because such details, like those of elaborate dreams or delayed air travel, are really only of interest to those who experience them. Suffice it to say that the following were involved: grey municipal offices; mysterious office hours; signatures in specific ink colors; at least one wild goose chase; photocopies made by a sausage vendor; and more official stamps than we could shake a stick at.

The result: our Turkish sim cards still work.

Here is one lone iPhone photo I took as we trudged across the city.

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Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke

Although our day started this morning with emails and phone calls, we did manage to step out this afternoon with our cameras. We were lucky that Ferdi Limani was available to come with us. Ferdi speaks fluent Turkish (one of his 5 languages!), so he was able to chat with local Turks on the street. David and Ferdi met in Kosovo in 1999; at that time, Ferdi was working as a fixer for James Nachtwey.

Here’s Ferdi against a background David was experimenting with on our walk:

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Ferdi, David Gross

(Side note for those curious about equipment etc.: David shoots with an Olympus OM-D camera. This shot was taken with a Leica DG Summilux 25mm 1.4 lens, at ISO 250, 1/60, f2.8)

We decided to head to the Eminönü neighborhood in Istanbul, as we had heard from several people that there were many Syrian refugees living on the streets and parks there; specifically, we had heard that many were living near the Süleymaniye Mosque. The reality was much more complicated. We discovered some Syrian families living in abandoned buildings in the area, but as one Syrian man told us, many of these people had moved to Istanbul for economic reasons, rather than in flight from the war.

The information we got from Turkish people on the street was varied and often contradictory. Some claimed the Syrians in Eminönü were largely well-off, and pretending to be refugees in order to make extra money by begging on the streets. On the other hand, the people we saw living in abandoned houses looked like they were really scraping to survive. The truth, whatever it is, must be extremely complicated.

In leaving Eminönü, we ran into a lively bunch of Turkish kids in the street, including this young girl with a mask:

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Young girl on street, David Gross (same camera & lens as above, ISO 250 1/80 f2.8)

We also discovered that the light in Istanbul becomes incredibly warm and beautiful this time of year at around 4pm. It turns the colors of the street rich and vibrant.

Here’s another iPhone photo I took of David. I promise to start taking a wider variety of test photos on the iPhone, so you all don’t get tired of looking at him. I am excited to see how my film images (of others!) in this light & location turned out.

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David in Eminönü, Mieke Strand

Such gorgeous colors and textures in this city.

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke

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On the ferry to Buyukada, David Gross

Ahh, the weekend. A time of rest, relaxation…and frustration if you’re in the mood to get things done!

We approached our first weekend in Istanbul with some reluctance, because it meant we’d have to take a short break from meeting with people directly involved with Inside-Outside. However, the weekend did give us the opportunity to visit one of David’s friends, a journalist and writer who lives on the island of Buyukada.

Buyukada (which means “big island” in Turkish) is magical. We took a 90 minute ferry ride to get there from Istanbul. The island allows no cars, other than a few municipal vehicles. We actually took a horse-drawn buggy to get from the ferry station to our destination.

The island was once a summer destination for wealthy Istanbullas, and it still hosts many Victorian era estates. The house we visited was built in 1888, and it had a fairy-tale quality to it: svelte and tall, weathered in white paint, drawn with ornate flourishes, and surrounded by a wild garden that wound down to the sea. It was the kind of house that whispers secrets of its past while you sleep.

Such a house would feed the imagination of any child, and as luck would have it, our friend has two sons, both about the same age as the children we hope to work with. David took the opportunity to take their portraits, trying out the techniques he plans to use for Inside-Outside.

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Nikita, David Gross

While David will be using lights for his portraits, I intend to use natural light and photograph outside. (I will also be using medium format film, which means I will not be able to post that work here for some time.) In our walks around Buyukada and Istanbul, I’ve been watching light, color, and backdrops. We are happily in a wonderful location for all three.

Here is a quick cell phone photo I took of David today in a spot with the type of light, color, and background I keep looking for:

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David, Mieke Strand

Although it was a wonderful weekend, we’re looking forward to getting back to the work of organizing our first art therapy session tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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On the ferry to Buyukada, David

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(photographs of the minarets of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, taken from outside the gate – left by David, right by Mieke)

The past couple of days have been a jet-lagged whirlwind, but the project is starting to take definite shape. We met yesterday with the art therapy group, Arkabahçe, and we are very excited to be working them. One of their therapy techniques is to have children create “books of life” in which they paint or draw images of their past, present, and future. We are thrilled with this idea as it encourages the children to find hope in their future despite the difficulties of their past or present experiences.

Today, we met up with Ezgi Içöz, another art therapist in Istanbul. Ezgi completed her art therapy training in the Bay Area, and lived for a time in Oakland, not far from us (small world!). It looks like she will be able to work with us in January, and we’re so happy to have her help.

We also got some helpful updates from one of David’s friends, Ferdi Limani, a photojournalist now living in Istanbul. Ferdi recently returned from Syria and spoke of the pure chaos that now reigns throughout the country. Although we’re not planning to cross the border from Turkey into Syria, it’s helpful to hear first-hand about the everyday living conditions in Syria.

And last but not least, we had tea tonight with Nergiz Özdemir. Nergiz is a psychologist based in Istanbul, and she’s helped us enormously. She works primarily with street children, a group that now includes many Syrian refugee kids. She was recently interviewed on Turkish television regarding the crises these young refugees are facing.

In short (and I’m trying to keep this short!), our team is coming together. We have been amazed and touched by the generosity of the people we’ve met, in contributing their time and effort to Inside-Outside. It’s exciting and gratifying to see the ideas we’ve been refining over the past months come to life amongst others.

Oh, and since my last visit to Istanbul, I’ve been dreaming of yoghurt with sour cherry jam. It did not disappoint.

-Mieke

Tea House

Welcome to the Inside-Outside blog!

We fly to Istanbul in a few short hours to begin work on Inside-Outside. We’ll be posting updates of our progress from the road here over the next few months.

Thanks again for all your support! We’re excited to get started.

If this is your first visit to our site, please visit our project page for a full description of what we’re up to.

(photo: David Gross, Tea House in Diyarbakır, Turkey 2002)





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