"Imagine Istanbul" in Brussels

Article published on Nov. 3, 2015
Article published on Nov. 3, 2015

The Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels is hosting Imagine Istanbul as part of the Europalia International Arts Festival. The exhibit, a photographic journey from the 19th century to modern times, draws visitors into the heart of the city.

Istanbul: a population of 14 million, the Bosporus, the Blue Mosque. Elusive and constantly changing, this Turkish metropolis attracts both local and international artists.

Ara Güler, "The Eye of Istanbul"

It is impossible to bring up Istanbul without mentioning the photographer Ara Güler. Born in 1928 to Armenian parents, he is a living legend in Turkey. Nicknamed "The Eye of Istanbul," Güler uses his Leica to capture the city's many faces in black and white. His subjects range from exhausted workers and street sweepers to wealthy notables. But the exhibit's curator, R. Paul McMillen, warns us from the beginning: "If you go looking for the Istanbul of Ara Güler or Orhan Pamuk, you won't find it, any more than you can find Fellini's Rome or James Joyce's Dublin." Ara Güler shows us "his" Istanbul: an Istanbul that is poetic, and filled with nostalgia.


"Ara Güler's greatest achievement is to have preserved for many millions a visual memoir that captures the city in all its richness and poetry. Every time I look at the details in Güler's Istanbul photographs, I want to rush to my desk to write about the city," said Orhan Pamuk, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Literature. 

In the mid-60s, Henri Cartier-Bresson visited his friend Ara Güler. Imagine Istanbul includes several pictures of the French photographer, evidence of their stroll together along the banks of the Bosporus.

Ahmet Polat and Ali Taptik: the younger generation takes over

This past decade has seen the emergence of a new generation of Turkish photographers.  While some reflect Güler's style, others strive to distance themselves from their emblematic ancestor.

One such photographer is Ali Taptik. Born in 1983, Taptik is often presented as the antithesis of the "Eye of Istanbul." A graduate in architecture, he favors a personal approach. Taptik shows us gutted walls, mountains of trash, sacks of potatoes spilled on the ground. His goal is to photograph "a city that is evaporating", that "transforms itself" every month.

The exhibit also devotes significant space to Ahmet Polat. The work of the 37 year old Dutch-Turkish photographer falls into the urban, documentary and fashion categories. Ahmet Polat's photographs, taken in the streets or on public transportation, express the day-to-day life of a diverse city where religion mixes with secularism.

"Imagine Istanbul"

Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (BOZAR)

through January 24, 2006