There is a practice here in Istanbul where little shanty structures are built in the middle of the night. The reason for this is that the property laws in Istanbul make it very difficult for a structure to be torn down once it is built (or in the process of being built). As long as the frame or a wall or something is standing, the structure can not be taken down. Property laws in these cases are no help to the property owner. Once the structure is up, whether the builders own the property or not, it is most likely staying up. These little shanty homes are often very small, only consisting of one room at first and then expanded to (maybe) two or three, and unstable as they are built using whatever materials can be afforded or found. Gültepe is a district in Istanbul where a lot of these simple midnight structures can be seen.
Our mission started off harmless enough. One of my classmates needed to go to a “squatter neighborhood” as that is what she is writing an article on. So, she, myself, another classmate and an interpreter risked life and limb as we were whisked off in a minibus and taken to Gültepe in search of squatters and their squats. What we found, was not what we would normally define as a squatter neighborhood or a slum (the visual references that we have of slums, India’s slums for example, paint a very different picture than what we saw), but instead was a very poor neighborhood filled with crumbling homes and dilapidated structures.
We set right to work, photographing, soaking in the visuals, the sounds, the smells and, of course, looking for people to interview. I was surprised by how willing people were to talk to us, as we are clearly foreigners, and by how open and almost excited they were to have us take their pictures. My classmate who is doing the story immediately set to work interviewing families, with the help of an interpreter, while my other classmate and I took pictures and played with the rather gregarious and curious children.
All seemed to be going well. We were getting interviews, taking pictures, meeting families, entertaining children – we were being journalists. Then things began to unravel. We had happened upon one of these shanty houses and my classmate decided that she wanted to knock on the door and see if anyone was home and if she could interview them. Well, it turns out that the shanty home was actually two shanties that were connected and we were pretty quickly approached by the many people that lived in them. I didn’t do the interviews (it was not my assignment, I was just tagging along) so I do not know how many of them were family or friends or neighbors, but what I do know that their arrival marked the downward spiral that was about to ensue.
My classmate started interviewing and all seemed to be going well. She had gained access to the homes of the subjects and they were cooperating nicely with answering questions and being photographed. They wanted us to see their homes, they wanted us to sit with them, they wanted us to have dinner with them – all very nice gestures. Then it happened. One of the ladies that my classmate was interviewing start to do her pitch, ending with the thought that we should give her some money to help her out (as a journalist, you are ethically not supposed to do anything that could be interpreted as bribery for a subject’s cooperation). After that awkward moment, we were invited to sit with a large group of women outside one of the homes. And it got worse from there.
We encountered among this group of women, an evil spirited young woman, who was clearly less than thrilled and most likely embarrassed by our presence. She began to say really rude and insulting comments to me and one of my classmates. We sat there and smiled as she insulted us (we wanted to ensure that our other classmate got what she needed for her article), met her hostility with kindness, and tried to laugh it off. However, nerves were hit, feelings were hurt, and we walked away from the experience feeling deflated and confused.
As a person who really does try to adhere to the “Golden Rule” I was hurt by the way I was treated, especially because it was so unnecessary and unwarranted. That being said, I have chosen a profession in which I am sure I will encounter more than snippy comments and hurtful words. I guess it’s time to “suck it up”.
The experience was not a complete loss. I got a few photos that I really love out of it and I got to make some children smile and laugh. Below are some of my favorites:
This man was great. He was sitting up against a wall on a square of carpet with his wife, who really wanted us to photograph them. His face has such character and his body language was so simple and calm and his eyes were black and deep. I imagine this man had some very interesting stories to tell…
I thought this chair was pretty awesome….
Such a pretty little girl. And although subdued in the picture, she was quite energetic and her laugh was wild and contagious.
This is the last image and perhaps one of the favorites of my trip so far.
So, That’s the end of my Gültepe experience.
Peace and Love.