For week two in Istanbul we’re ducking over the Golden Horn to a distinctly different world than the one we last visited. Cihangir (pronounced Gee-hang-ish), located in the Beyoğlu district, is the home of happy hipsters, intellectuals, Turkish celebrities and artists – well-off artists that is, who can afford the not inconsiderable rents.
Ten years ago the place was cheap. Then suddenly everyone realised that this was the perfect place to live – at one end, the entertainment district of Taksim, at the other, a ridiculously impressive view, stretching over the Bosphorus, across to Sultanahmet and down to the Sea of Mamara and beyond.
When the Istanbul Modern Art Museum sprouted at the bottom of the hill in 2004, it was a done deal. Cihangir was pronounced the ‘it’ suburb, rents sky-rocketed and the hipsters moved in.
A few facts before we roam. Named after a mosque that looks out over the incredible view which was in turn named after the son of Suleiman the Magnificent. It also means place of much stencil graffiti and cats, lots and lots of cats.
Part 1: ‘It’s where everyone wants to live’
So said someone we met on one of ours walk around the neighbourhood. While I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the statement, I suspect it’s quite true. Take Seval, for example, a woman we met while walking her English Setter at the local park last Sunday afternoon. While waiting to pick up doggie do, this is what she looks at…
She lives just around the corner too. With a musician boyfriend. What more does a girl need?
In Sydney terms, Cihangir is Potts Point glam mixed with Newtown grunge. While some of the European style apartment blocks are quite lovely, some are plain Janes. But all have nice steel framed doors. Who, I wondered, lives behind them?
Aside from great views and charming apartment blocks, the neighbourhood is blessed with some interesting second-hand shops, looking their best in the recent sunshine.
As with most of Istanbul, the women in Cihangir are a combination of bare-headed and scarfed. Aside from the lovely Tuba (pink scarf, second image below), those that cover their heads have been completely unwilling to be photographed. A reminder that as modern and western as Istanbul can feel, Turkey is still a thoroughly Muslim country.
Part 2: Cats
I’m a cat lover but the street cats of Cihangir are out of control. They are everywhere. But far from being treated as a nuisance, the local community looks after them, leaving bowls of water and food all around the place.
Still, I was really taken aback when I met Gulsum, a woman who runs a great local cafe called Kaktus. Not only can any cat wander into Kaktus and curl up wherever they wish, she has 60 of them living at her home. Sixty.
What’s also unusual about Gulsum are her facial tattoos. I keep my eye out for interesting tattoos but I’ve never seen any like these.
Part 3: And yet
For all its alternative-ness and modern hipster ways, Cihangir hasn’t changed entirely. The call to prayer still bellows down the streets, summoning young and old to the local mosques five times a day. And the old fellas still hang out together, drinking strong tea out of tulip shaped glasses and chugging on endless cigarettes.
There’s even an ancient Ottoman graveyard nestled between apartment blocks with the most interesting tombstones: you can tell the gender and rank of the deceased by the headdress. For example, men of high standing have turbans, lesser mortals, the fez. There weren’t any female tombstones but apparently you can tell how many children women had by the number of flowers decorating their graves.
We met Mr Handsome in the image below one morning and then ran into him again later that day. I call him that because I think he is handsome – but also because I have no idea of his name. I keep meaning to write a translation down, asking people for their name.
Part 4: Down to the water
I have two rules with this project. Stick to one suburb a week and avoid anything remotely touristy or iconic.
This week I broke both. Couldn’t help it. I started out as usual, documenting ordinary life in Cihangir. Then before I knew it I was drawn down the hill to the water’s edge, ending up at the Galata Bridge in Karakoy, a ten minute walk away.
I knew I was in dangerous territory when every second person seemed to be wearing a camera around their neck. Tourists. Eew.
I blame those views from the dog park in Cihangir – they made me hungry for more – as well as famous Turkish photographer, Ara Guler. I’ve been pouring over Guler’s images ever since we arrived in Istanbul and I particularly like his black and whites of life around the Golden Horn in the 1950s and 60s.
So to start with, three black and white images of my own…
It was so interesting to see a neighbourhood like Cihangir after last week’s living museum. Yet as modern-western and alternative as it is, the place is still so old Istanbul. I hope it continues to retain the old, especially those amazing tombstones.
And look, I apologise for sneaking in a little of the famous stuff. This project is all about capturing the ‘unphotographed’ but that view over the Golden Horn must have been snapped a zillion times. Hopefully I’ve got it out of my system and I’ll be back to my usual suburban self next week.
On the ‘home front’
It’s been an intense few weeks, the first time on the journey that it’s just been Coco and I; in Hong Kong we had friends and a ‘babysitter’, in India, family and a slew of home help.
Now it’s just us.
But it’s not the 24/7 glued-at-the-hip part that’s challenging. It’s the fact that I have no option but to take Coco with me every time I go out photographing.
It’s tough for both of us. I vacillate between thinking, what a great experience for Coco and, poor Coco, being dragged around for hours on end (and constantly hugged and cheek-pinched by well-meaning Turkish men!).
And for me, it can be very frustrating. I can’t move around so quickly. And I can’t stand still for too long either; sometimes photography is all about waiting, hanging on a street corner for an hour because the light is good or you like a particular background. You can’t do that when you’re with someone, especially a child.
It’s something I thought long and hard about of course when I was planning the trip. But until now I haven’t had to deal with it. All credit to Coco, she’s incredibly flexible and patient, but it’s definitely an issue that I need to find a solution for sooner rather than later.
Of course the upside is that yes, we are sharing a wonderful adventure. I just hope Coco remembers it like that.
This suburb has been brought to you by Karla Headon
See you next week.