I’m always fascinated by how some ideas percolate in the back of one’s mind before they find the right outlet.
I took these 2 portraits in 2007 during a stock production in India (more about this in a future post) and even though I liked what I was getting during the shoot, I didn’t think too much off them until I got home. Without really knowing why, I kept being drawn to these 2 images in edit after edit.
I printed them up and taped them to the wall next to my desk where I kept an eye on them for about 2.5 years.
Last September my girlfriend and I decided to spend our vacation doing a road trip through Turkey. Obviously a vacation is always a great time to work and so I decided to bring my camera and a set of lights.
I met my friend and Corbis AD Tobias Prasse for dinner a few days before departure and he generously offered to loan me his lights for the trip. This would make it my regular 2 packs/ 4 heads set-up. For a little while I was tempted to stick with just my set, since one 7b outfit is already a substantial schlepp, but Tobie quickly talked sense into me. Something along the line of “If you gonna take pictures, you might as well take your kind of pictures.”. He’s a good dad and clearly he was right.
We did some damage control by not bringing spare batteries but otherwise accepted the idea of traveling heavy.
One thing we probably all can agree on is that air travel is in a very sorry state and the American carriers might be among the worst of the bunch. So, my priorities are usually 1) get a direct flight and 2) with a non-American airline and 3) for a reasonable price. The direct flight is paramount since my anecdotal evidence shows that any stop-over represents a 20% chance of your bags getting send to purgatory.
Anyway, we went 3 for 3 and got a reasonable direct flight with Turkish Airways. We took a car service to JFK, paid for excess baggage, went through the usual check-in cluster-f, and were on our way.
We flew into Istanbul, rented a Renault Megane Diesel (which really helped us save on gas quite a bit ) and made our way to Cappadocia. After settling in a bit and checking out the area for a few days, I was itching to start the photo project. The problem was though that I still wasn’t sure what the project would be.
We were hanging out on the horse ranch of a friend’s friend and asked him if he could find us a local guy we could hire to translate and assist. He recommended Sedat, a young guy working with the horses, who turned out to be perfect for the job. He was highly energetic, charming, not shy at all and a quick learner.
When in doubt I would always consider myself a portraitist first and so I decided to start driving around with Susie and Sedat and see who we could find to take pictures of. I’ve always been interested in portraits of men and Turkey has such a patriarchal society that it made sense to explore that angle. We photographed this young guy first…
and then this older guy….
and then it all snapped into place.
Looking at the older man through my lens the India portraits started to make total sense. I realized that what I liked about them was that the men carried their age in a way that’s all but extinct in western societies. In the US and Europe just about everybody tries to be between 25 and 35. No matter if you’re a five year old girl or a seventy year old man you try to hit that sweet spot as fast as possible and stay there as long as you can. This is also true for fashion. A little girl and her grandmother might both dress like Byonce or a 4 year old boy and his 70 year old granddad might wear the same kind of shorts, sneakers and t-shirt without ever being considered strange.
In Turkey the old men looked like old men, and there was no air of defeat about them.
They also had great style even when their clothes were old and worn. Almost all of these guys were tough and skinny, and you could read their history in the lines of their faces.
I had my project.
We drove on to the next town and saw 2 or 3 oldtimers hang out at the town square. We set up our lights in a spot where we could easily rotate for 2 different good backgrounds and once we were ready to shoot, Sedat approached the men and explained to them what we were trying to do. They were a bit skeptical at first but finally decided to help a fellow out and once we could show the first portrait on the computer we had no problems convincing other men to sit for us.
What also helped was that a lot of these Anatolians spend time as guest workers in Germany when they were young and so I could talk to quite a few of them without Sedat translating.
After the town square we went to a more rural part trying to find a few men that Sedat knew from his horse rides. We drove a few miles on dirt roads and the first one we met was this shepherd with his flock of goats. He was in his early forties and the youngest in this project.
Trunk editing station:
The next stop we made was at a little cabin that was used by father and son beekeepers. It was on a beautiful spot of land near the Avanos river where they kept around 180 (!!) beehives. The portrait of the father became one of my favorites….
and we got a snack of honey that was nothing short of incredible.
We drove through a little town where we saw some prime candidates for our shoot sitting in the tea house but by now the sun was getting pretty low and we couldn’t find a decent location with good light in easy walking distance for the old men. So we decided to drive some more on the dirt roads around town to look for the last shot of the day and we came across this man who was riding on his tractor. He was working on a nearby construction site and told us, he would sit for us but had only a few minutes.
We hustled to set up our kit in record time, but as soon as he saw that there were 4 lights plus a large camera pointing at him, he told us, we could take all the time we want. I guess everybody likes a little Hollywood.
The Sultans-Magcloud Magazine
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