Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”The recent Thames & Hudson book Street Photography Now is a mixed bag, but among its gems are panoramas of İstanbul by Arif Aşçı. I had to see the book from which they were taken.

Aşçı’s İstanbul Panorama has now been lying on my sofa for a long time, and for a simple reason: the floor seems unworthy of it, and there’s nowhere else to put it. It’s 34 cm high and 49 cm wide. Here it is with two other books; observe how it disappears into the distance. It’s thick, too: plenty of photos inside.

Below are some page spreads, with other books sprinkled around to give a sense of scale.

Colour balance seems to have gone particularly screwy here, and hasn’t been much helped by my blundering around in GIMP’s menus. Rest assured that these aren’t cyanotypes: the printing of the book really is in greys and black, on white paper.

By a quick count, there are ninety-four horizontal panoramas (15×45 cm) across a single page:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

That’s a pair of photographs showing birds. Aşçı likes birds, cats, and dogs. (Indeed, he’s published one book of photos for each.) Don’t worry, the result is hardly postcard/calendar fodder.

Not enough of an impact for you? There are also twenty-one horizontal panoramas (30×91 cm) across two-page spreads:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

Though putting a photograph across a double-page spread is usually a sure-fire way to screw up the photograph, here it works. It’s a matter of the flexibility and so forth of the binding. This book is bound well for this purpose and it appears to be bound securely and durably to boot.

Try putting out your arms so your palms are ninety centimetres apart. That’s a generous size for an exhibition print, no? And you get twenty-one of these in the book (in addition, of course, to the smaller reproductions.)

İstanbul in snow and sunshine:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

İstanbul in a crowd; solitary İstanbul:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

Birds whizzing around in İstanbul:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

Here’s a harbour scene to savour:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”, detail of one photoThere’s plenty of detail in these photographs as Aşçı used 6×17. The camera would be huge and heavy: I don’t know which model Aşçı used but here is a review of a couple by Fuji that points out they weigh over 2 kg each and are 27 cm across. Film consumption would have been eight frames per roll of 220 if he was lucky, four per roll of 120 otherwise. Aşçı says he shot almost 3000 rolls. (Did he perhaps maintain the Turkish market for MF film all by himself?)

Aşçı also writes that friends he showed the photos to while shooting them included Alex Webb, Nikos Economopoulos, Josef Koudelka and Harry Gruyaert. That’s quite an advisory board. (Among them, Webb has his own book of İstanbul, Istanbul: City of a Hundred Names. It’s first-rate. If a used copy is beyond your budget, look for the Dutch-language version.)

But back to Aşçı:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

There are also thirty-seven vertical panoramas (31×10 cm); sometimes, as here, more than one on a single page:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

Are you ready, trousers? Start walking!

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

A couple . . . and then another couple:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

Arctic İstanbul:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

We get some grand, panoramy panoramas from time to time. But they’re hardly touristic:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

One extraordinary aspect of the book is the fluidity with which Aşçı can use his monster camera. If it’s no Leica, then it’s a big Fuji(ca). Yes we have decisive moments:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

By contrast, I learn today that — for the plutocrat who already has the usual “luxury” tat — there now exists a digital 6×17 camera: “On a clear, moderately bright English summer day, I found images taking between 2-4 seconds to capture, so [. . .] this is not a handheld camera.” (It seems that this digital monstrosity is instead well suited to vast prints of HDR kitsch.)

But back to Aşçı’s book. İstanbul can look like Tokyo:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

And then again it can look very different:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

We’re not through with cats yet. Here’s my favourite cat photograph, ever. True, the presence of the cat may not be obvious as you look at the JPEG. With the book, you do notice it (four o’clock from the “T” of “EXIT”).

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

Bird birds birds. Yes, we’ve all seen variants on this photo elsewhere, but this is one of the best.

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

In Aşçı’s hands, a 6×17 can work like an oversized Ricoh GR:

Arif Aşçı’s “İstanbul Panorama”

Arif Aşçı. İstanbul Panorama. İstanbul: A4 Ofset, 2009. ISBN 978-975-8416-18-9. (This is where it should be in Worldcat, but it’s not there yet.) With an introductory essay, in both Turkish and English, by Birhan Keskin, and a simple caption (place name and year) in the back for each photograph.

But as its name suggests, A4 Ofset is a printing company. In reality the publisher of İstanbul Panorama would appear to be its photographer. And it’s in an edition of fifteen hundred. Are the as-yet unsold copies in Aşçı’s house? A mere twenty copies would take a lot of space; a hundred, a great amount — but as for fifteen hundred, the mind boggles.

At Ilke Kitap for example, the book costs just 160 TL. That’s about 70€: ludicrously low. Dealers using AbeBooks will charge a lot more, but still a reasonable price, considering. International postage won’t come cheap. Perhaps the best option to set off for a short holiday in İstanbul with a large suitcase containing no more than a couple of changes of clothes and a lot of bubble-wrap. Bring a copy home with you. (Two copies, if the suitcase has wheels.)

Yes, links! Arif Aşçı (his own website); Arif Aşçı at the Turkish Cultural Foundation; Arif Aşçı at the Moscow House of Photography; İstanbul Panorama at the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow; “Arif Aşçı, Bahtabakan, İstanbul Panoramaları” (Youtube); Aşçı as this year’s winner of the Overseas Photographer Award of the Higashikawa Awards.

Copyright of Arif Aşçı’s images above belongs to Arif Aşçı.

Special guest appearances above by: Anatoli Andrukhovich, Minsk: A Guide; Araki Nobuyoshi, Tōkyō wa, ima; Asparagus; Raymond Aubrac, The French Resistance, 1940–1944; Mark Bayer, Agony; Besuto Shashin Kyōkai, Firumu shashin no torikata; Laurent Chardon, Tangente; Federico Clavarino, Ukraina Pasport; Collins French Gem Dictionary; Collins Mondadori Dizionario Inglese·Italiano, Italiano·Inglese; Claude Cookman, Werner Bischof; Peter Dechert, Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933–1968; Jacob Deschin, Canon Photography; Jason Eskenazi, Wonderland: A Fairytale of the Soviet Monolith; Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit; Gustave Flaubert, The Dictionary of Received Ideas; Fukiya Kōji, Hanayome ningyō; Samuel Fuller, New York in the 1930s; John Glashan, The Eye of the Needle; Benoît Grimalt, Do You Know Syd Barrett?; Amanda Hopkinson, Manuel Alvarez-Bravo; Hugo Pocket Dictionary French; Hugo Portuguese Dictionary; Ian Jeffrey, Josef Sudek; Serge Kaganski, Alfred Hitchcock; Kakei Shinji, Yokosuka-chō; Kojima Akio, Shoho no shashinjutsu; Guillaume Le Gall, Atget, Life in Paris; Quotations from Lin Piao; Alfred Moquin-Tandon, The World of the Sea; Corry Nethery, The Second Lady Beerbohm; New Gem Encyclopedia; Noma Toshio, Kyōrikei-tsuki kamera no hensen; Northern Italy; Eugene P. Northrup, Riddles in Mathematics: A Book of Paradoxes; Stephen Potter, Lifemanship, One-Upmanship, Supermanship and Anti-Woo; Shanghai Writing Group for Revolutionary Mass Criticism, To Trumpet Bourgeois Literature and Art is to Restore Capitalism; Shirai Tatsuo, Maboroshi no kamera o otte; Robert Silverio, Karel Cudlín; La Suisse, et les parties limitrophes de la Savoie et de l’Italie; Suzuki Kiyoshi, Hundred Steps and Thousand Stories; Tanuma Takeyoshi, Kimura Ihee: Shōwa o utsusu; Tatsuki Masaru, Tohoku; Italo Tavolato, Grosz; Tokiwa Toyoko, Kiken na adabana; Kenneth Tydings, The Canon 35mm Camera Guide; Christopher Wormell and Ian Niall, English Country Traditions.

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