Turkey East to West
photography and text by
Turkey is a strategically important nation, poised
geographically and symbolically between Europe and Asia. But the tensions
at the heart of Turkey are becoming increasingly severe. A struggle is
taking place between modernity, tradition, secularism, Islamism, democracy
and repression — often in unlikely and contradictory combinations.
Usually these tensions and our gaze are focused almost exclusively on
Istanbul, the Kurdish issue, or religion, ignoring the far deeper complexities
of a large country searching for a modern identity.
While living in Turkey for four-and-a-half years, I was surprised at how
quickly change was taking place: landscapes, towns, and cities reshaped,
an extensive road network under construction, town centers "beautified,"
and large apartment blocks springing up at a rapid rate around every town
and city. Almost always, the architecture and infrastructure follow the
same blueprint. Cities are becoming carbon copies of each other.
This modernization is designed to handle the mass migration from village
to city that is transforming Turkey. Istanbul, a city of a million people
in 1960, is now one of the world's largest urban sprawls with an estimated
population of over 15 million. The migration is raising a host of new
One of the most immediate concerns is the rapid disintegration of community
in Turkish villages and towns. The low-cost housing projects replacing
these communities are a model that has generally failed in Europe, though
it is too early to tell how they will work in Turkey.
Turkey is often seen as the country that will bridge the gap between the
West and the Middle East. At the moment Turkey is at a political crossroads
that will define the very nature of the country. With a large, dynamic,
and young population there is always hope that a truly democratic and
liberal country will emerge, and that Turkey will be able to fulfill its
role as a bridge between cultures and religions.
My work, by focusing on the altering landscape, seeks to address and question
this process of modernization, urbanization, and national identity that
is being played out against a rising tide of nationalism and religion.
For part of this work, I made photographs as I traversed the nation from
East to West, seeking both the global and local. Another part is a series
of candid photos made in the modern centre of Istanbul, Taksim Square,
where I have deliberately avoided any architectural or cultural context:
all you see are the people photographed against a universal sky. At first
glance, they appear almost indistinguishable from people inhabiting major
metropolises around the world. However, my intention here was not to suggest
a move towards a globalized identity but by alluding to the appearance
of a fashion show, to the possibilities of individuality.
— George Georgiou
The work presented here is an extract from the forthcoming book to
be published by Mets & Schilts called Fault Line Turkey.
You can also see and hear the photographer speak about this work in a
brief video interview.