Thursday, 16 July 2009

Enver Korkmaz, Pinar, Tepebashi, Istanbul

Enver Korkmaz is a butcher in Tepebasi, a few streets of calm amidst Tarlabasi neighbourhood. He’s 28 and for the last eight years he’s run ‘Pinar’. His father set up the shop after migrating to Istanbul over 30 years ago from Erzincan, a town in eastern Turkey. Since the 60s/70s many others from Erzincan have settled here, amongst familiar faces. Men like Ishan, a local plumber, or Ali, an estate agent, both of whom knew Enver’s father (who died four years ago). They watched over Enver and his two brothers as they grew up. Shared roots and big hearts have made for a close-knit community, that feels different from the rest of Tarlabasi.

“Trust”, according to Enver is the mainstay of his business. He knows all of his customers and says they have a good relationship built on trust of his produce and his qualities as a neighbour, as one of them.

Open from 8am to 9pm, 7 days a week, Enver’s a major part of the street life. A customer can shout down an order from their apartment window, which he’ll prepare and deliver. There are customers who care to stay and chat for a while, over tea and a cigarette. He’ll ask some people to run errands for him, and his neighbours who’ll borrow his stools to sit outside. There are parents who ask Enver to keep an eye on their children playing on the street. Households entrust him with their keys. Some even leave him the key to their strongbox.

Enver accepted our invitation to make a project, that would bring together these various groups (and others) for photographs. We reasoned that by recognising these groups, we wanted to show how ‘trust’ in its various guises was important to the community, and reveal the unique social bonds created by Enver.

We sat all day, for a few days, outside the shop, chatting with neighbours, making friends. We made diplomatic visits to other local shops, and to the men who frequent the local tea shop, to talk about the project. We debated points of view like, “if the British Government can manipulate 1 million people on to the streets of Tehran, why should we be trusted to photograph Tepebasi?”

A few days later, we started to take photographs for people that they wanted, of their children and families, and of the local teashop, to help build trust around our intentions.

There were some problems. Primarily when a local (mis) informed the police, who then questioned Enver. They warned him not to work with us, saying we worked for an international organization conspiring to damage the community. Enver needed some reassurance, and letter confirming our identity from Platform Garanti did the trick. He showed it the police the second time they visited and said we are doing the photos.

People where naturally concerned as to how we as foreigners would try to represent them. Some also spoke of other problems that threaten the community and some of the safeguards taken. For example, local landlords have an informal agreement, that rents here are twice as much as a few streets away in Tarlabasi, to help defend against the encroachment of drugs, prostitution and other ‘undesirables’. Gentrification is also an issue. Relatively cheap buildings, it’s prime location near the city centre, and the attractive renovation opportunities, making Tepebasi a prime site for ‘gentrification’.

Whilst some enterprising locals let out rooms, apartments or buildings, which they bought when prices were low, not everyone has the same resources. Enver says he doesn’t want to live or work anywhere else, and with his shop, he can be confident in his chances of staying put. However, some in the community will be priced out, and like the Greeks who once dominated this neighbourhood in the 1950s, will have to find a home elsewhere.

Muharrem Yorganci’s Archive

Now aged 83, Mr Yorganci bought a camera at the age of 14 and has since habitually photographed and archived all parts of his life including family, friends, weddings, funerals and the customers of their shop.

He ran a small shop with his beloved wife Nermin, for 50 years. “A very beautiful and sweet commercial life passed by. The most important thing was that we did it together.” Their shop was situated in a fairly low-income neighbourhood near Eminonu. His customers were mostly neighbours and friends from the same town on the Black Sea coast. “There was social intimacy in our area. I offered them a chair, we served tea and would talk.”

What follows are extracts from an interview with Mr Yorganci about his life, shop and his photographs.

“We lived above the shop and I remember being disturbed at all hours. A tailor on a deadline might knock at 2am to ask for a replacement for a broken needle. We would serve them, not thinking about profit, but it was our professional duty.”

“When I was a child, my father owned a bakkal, which sold everything for the village. Customers shopped on credit with their debt noted down in our ‘bakkal book’. In 1944, when I had finished school in Istanbul and returned to my village, I wanted to (but didn’t) take photos of the customers and stick them next to their debt. The idea of photographing customers comes from there.”

“In our Istanbul shop, a man had some items in the credit book when he passed away. His son was a child at the time. 15 years later, this young man came to the shop and said ‘I think my father owed you, let’s even things up’. When he began to work, he paid the debt. Because of inflation the debt was nothing at all, but I still let him pay. This gesture, of him remembering to come back and pay his father’s debt, brought tears to our eyes.”

“I replace my camera every few years. Now my daughter says ‘let’s buy you a digital camera’, but I don’t want one. I’ve been taking my films to the same shop since the beginning of the 1970s. I’ve known Rifat, the owner for more than 30 years and there’s a strong bond between us. I sit for an hour or so and drink tea. Then I go again to collect the prints. If I went digital, I would lose that regular contact with my friend.”

Shop photos
“I photographed all the customers I knew, the ones to whom I served tea and chatted with.”

I knew Ahmet from our home town. In Istanbul, he was a neighbour. He worked as a bearer, carrying fruit and vegetables. He bought from the shop all the time and we offered him credit so he could pay later. He’d buy socks, shirts and underwear. When he returned to our hometown for the summer, he would buy gifts. Scarves for his wife, needles and thread. Eau de cologne.”

This man used to work as an assistant for a shoemaker. My wife made his wife’s wedding dress. He’d come and buy things all the time, the same things as Ahmet. Gifts for newborns, socks, scarves and underwear, school materials for his children, bags, etc.”
“This man used to work as a Shoemaker’s assistant. My wife made his wife’s wedding dress. He’d come and buy things all the time, the same things as Ahmet. Gifts for newborns, socks, scarves and underwear, school materials for his children, bags.”

“I would ask children from the neighbourhood to wait by the door so I could take their photograph. I remember this child. She was our neighbour’s daughter. Parents could safely send their children on errands alone. They had confidence in the shops and their owners, and the neighbourhood had very little traffic. She’d buy pens, pencils, notebooks or whatever her mother sent her to buy.”

This photo below shows three of the many photos Mr Yorgani has of himself and which were taken by his customers.

Hayri Öztürk, Bakkal, Üsküdar, Istanbul

The role Hayri Öztürk has played in his neighbourhood has been two-fold. Most of the day, he sits in his Bakkal, a shop that’s a cornerstone of Istanbul’s city life, serving his customers, smoking cigarettes and fingering his Tespih [prayer beads]. Every day, from 8am to 10pm, neighbours drop in for a chat, to buy milk, bread, sweets, cigarettes, or things they forgot to buy at the supermarket. He has a credit book which is used daily, so people can pay at the end of the month, or when they have the money.

Hayri often keeps an eye on his grandson and other children in the neighbourhood, and whilst there for the convenience of others, he seems content with his lot. He owns the shop and the room next door, and lives in the block across the street. “I make ten lira a day and I spend ten lira an evening, at the local club”, he says.

Though when asked about politics in this quiet backstreet of the religiously conservative Üsküdar, a large and densely populated district on Istanbul's Asian side, he spoke of another part of his life. He described this as a low-income area and he does what he can do to help others out, such as give 5 loaves of bread a day to some Roma families nearby.

Before now he may well have been in a position to do a little bit more. Fifteen years ago he retired from the police force. Since then he’s been the elected head of the neighbourhood or Muhtar, but lost the election this year. As Muhtar he was responsible for government activity at the local level, and authorised, amongst other things, to issue copies of official papers: ID Cards, certificate’s of domicile, etc. He took us to his room next door.

This room is the Muhtar’s office, home to all the records of his activities (and that of his successor), with the walls covered in photographs of every man in the neighbourhood, a few photos of him and some press clippings. It feels like a museum, overlooked by a large photo of Ataturk.

Sidestepping the large bottles of Coke stored here, he pulled out a logbook detailing everyone in the neighbourhood and any official actions taken. Next he produced a book of deeds he’d done, a sort of register of assistance. But it was the 100’s of head shots of men that was the most compelling record. He explained they are used to help identify suspects of crimes, but if they were dead he’d write that on their photo. He pointed out one photo he’d tried, but failed, to pull off the wall to blow up to make a large print for the man's funeral.

When asked ‘why men only?’ he said if he put women’s photos up, they would argue and be jealous with each other about who was the most attractive. He introduced us to a woman from the neighbourhood, who was a lawyer, and answered the same question. She said it was because men were the head of the families and the more public face of each family. "So men would be the ones doing the formal, administrative things of public life."

Our local guide, Gunes said the photo wall system was, at least in her experience, unique.

Nothing is too much, Istanbul

The quality of customer service in Istanbul is fundamentally special, wherever you go. No 'exclusive' customer of retailers like Beymer, Burberry or Prada, in Nisantasi would expect anything less. Tea, coffee, wine and newspapers are all part of client hospitality. Laws are breakable = smoking is allowed, and customers can bring pets and food into the shop. Shipping, loyalty cards and financial services are all part of the package. Beymer will collect customers from their hotel, Burberry will take clothing to customers' homes.

But go to your Bakkal [mini-market], butcher or baker, in any Istanbul neighbourhood, and the standards are relatively the same. A chair, chai or water would be offered, time allowing. Cigarettes are offered liberally and pets are welcomed. Credit books are common currency.

Local shops will give out magnets so customers can phone through, or shout down an order ('Bakkal, Bakkal' is a regular call from apartment windows), and the shop staff will pick and pack your groceries and deliver them to your doorstep at no extra charge. If they don't have a something in stock, they'll run elsewhere and get it for you in 15 minutes.

If you trust the shop and the shop trusts you, they'll agree to look after your house or car keys while you're out. The local shops use the same customer service as global businesses, to keep themselves alive. One likely difference is that the local shops are controlled by parents, not by parent companies.

Hampar Gögdemir, Kurtulus, Istanbul

A shop in the Kurtulus neighbourhood of Istanbul. Fitted-out with elegant display counters, it sells good Turkish brands of unisex underwear and nightwear.

Business isn’t good. The present crisis is affecting sales because vast quantities of clothing were manufactured in Turkey for an export market that no longer exists. These items are being sold off locally at very low retail prices in factory shops, markets and arcades. Mr Gögdemir can’t afford to match these low prices. However, he’s got more chance of survival because he owns the shop so is not paying rent. There were six other shops like his in the neighbourhood, which have all closed down.

Shopping habits are changing. Nowadays customers either go Marks & Spencer for quality or to the arcades and markets for very cheap prices. He told us of a long-term customer who brought her daughter into the shop. Upsettingly, the daughter didn’t want to buy anything, she preferred M&S.

Mr Gögdemir knows many of his customers by sight. He’s known some customers since the shop opened 25 years ago. A few elderly customers still bring him home-cooked food. He used to know the customers better. Few take the time to sit down for a glass of tea and talk about the different generations, like they used to. They come in, buy what they need and disappear.

The community used to be closer knit. A woman might buy a housedress and show her neighbour. Half an hour later the neighbour would turn up to buy one too. Then half an hour later another neighbour would come. It’s not like this anymore.

Mr Gögdemir used to drink tea and play games with other local shopkeepers in the street outside. However, tea from the teahouse has grown increasingly expensive (five glasses a day costs over £60 a month), so now he brews his own. He’s never encouraged other shopkeepers to enter and socialise within the shop, as he wouldn’t want to present a female customer with a row of men in front of the counter.

We spoke to Mr Gögdemir about the way shopkeepers greet customers. In the underwear shop, with its higher class of customer and more intimate nature, he usually addresses customers as ‘madam’ or ‘sir’, to keep a respectful distance. However, “if someone wearing a headscarf comes in or someone who seems lower class and therefore might care more about her womanly virtue or reputation, I will be sensitive to her situation and without thinking, I would greet her as ‘Abla’ (big sister), to try to put her at ease.” By using kinship names like aunt or sister, a shopkeeper makes the customer family. By removing sexuality from their interaction, he protects her virtue.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Kozma Kozmauoglu, Kozmaologu’s Pork Butcher, Dolapdere, Istanbul

Every surface and machine was spotless, or being made so by Kozma’s staff, as he showed us around the processing and storage rooms behind his pork butcher’s shop. The last of the sliced ham was being vacuum-packed as the operation wound down its business for the day. We were offered some slices of very tasty ham, rather than the customary tea. The pork chops, ribs, sausages, smoked or mortadello ham, and other pork products had already been withdrawn from the shop’s display. “With the heat of the day," he explains, “it’s best to keep everything in the large fridges in the back rooms.”

We’d set out to meet with Kozma, ‘The Last Pork Butcher in Istanbul’, after hearing a news broadcast on BBC radio last year. The programme spoke of the potential demise of his business due to new regulations, that some say are part of the government’s increasingly Islamic agenda.

He’s being prevented from slaughtering pigs. The Agriculture Ministry are refusing him a licence to operate his own abattoir, saying it did not meet the strict new guidelines. Careful not to say anything inflammatory, Kozma suggests, “maybe it was the issue with Pig Fever last year that led the government to revoke all pork abattoir licences.”

Others [on the BBC] said the closure of his, and all the other pig slaughterhouses, was “all about Islam” and symptomatic of the pro-Islamic agenda of the governing AK Party, which is popular with religious rural and the conservative, urban middle-class.

Despite this regulatory squeeze, we learnt that Kozmauoglu has negotiated a way to stay in business, as well as adapting to the long-standing decline of the non-Moslem minorities in the Dolapdere neighbourhood.

“These days, it’s rare for there to be walk-in customers, though we do have occasional visitors,” Kozma says. Now it’s mostly wholesale, to cruise ships, Armenian schools, chic delicatessen frequented by secular high society, and hotels, particularly those in the Antalya tourist region on Turkey’s south coast.

The government now allows Kozmaoglu to buy pork - he receives the pigs halved from farms in Mersin and Antalya - then process and distribute pork products around Turkey. They are the only institution in Istanbul to have a licence to do this. In return, he provides the government with a list of his customers to prove he is not selling to Turkish Moslems and is transparent about those he trades with.

To demonstrate the delicacy of his situation, he showed us two shipping documents, noting that the government officials do not put their own names on the documents for fear of reprisals. When asked about the future of the shop he said, “Who knows. It’s difficult to predict the government’s attitude.”

Kozma set up the business in 1977 with his brother Lazari, and comes from an old Greek family that moved to Istanbul 200 years ago, with roots in the central Anatolian town of Karaman. His daughter and son also work for the business. Just behind the shop is the Greek Orthodox Church of Panayia Evangelistria. The neighborhood was predominantly Greek when Istanbul’s Rum [Greek] minority numbered 100,000 or more in the early 1950s. Today, Istanbul’s Rums, as they are called, number around 2,000. The decline was prompted by the riots against the Greeks and other non-Moslem minorities in September 1955. He says some of his extended family emigrated to Greece in the 1970’s, though still come back to visit. There are only 10 or 15 Rums living in the neighborhood nowadays. And for some of them, Kozmaoglu’s shop is a meeting place. They come and chat and drink tea, even if they don’t buy anything.

Akaretler, Istanbul

Photographing Akaretler was a bit of a problem. It's an upscale neighbourhood developed by Beymer, one of Turkey's major fashion brands, in partnership with American bank, Citigroup. We walked down Macka Street, which felt like a public street, combining smart, new apartments and high-end retailers like Mark Jacobs, etc. We took one photo. A pincer move by two private security guards prevented us taking more.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Çarşı, Beşiktaş Istanbul

We visited Beşiktaş fish market because this was the origin for the Çarşı, an unofficial supporters club of Beşiktaş FC. At each match, they chant and show huge banners responding to current or political affairs with witty, anarchistic slogans like, “We are against everything, except Ataturk” that are picked up by TV, and beamed across the world.

Çarşi literally means Market, and we wanted to find out what the relationship was between the market and the Çarşi now. Everyone of the fish sellers we spoke to was ‘Beşiktaş’, and proud they’d just won the league [again]. We learnt, that yes indeed, the Çarşi, are named after here, and the head Çarşi guy buys his fish from here for his restaurant. The fish sellers also pointed us in the direction of the Çarşi shop, in the nearby Grand Beşiktaş precinct.

The shop has official merchandise, but they also design their own gear which reflects the Çarşi slogans, which are admired by many and appropriated by supporters of other teams! On match days, the shop opens at 6-7am and has a queue of 300 people outside. The owner said he rarely goes to the matches now (he’s in his 40s), but the president gives him signed shirts as gifts, he knows all the players, transfer gossip and news about the club, and gets called all the time for his point of view.

The owner told us that he and his brother are part of the inner core Çarşi, which meets weekly. We heard the core have a powerful influence, coordinating banners, chants and deciding if support or protests are needed. For instance, after the Izmit earthquake, the Çarşi mobilized and donated hundreds of thousands of units of blood to the Red Crescent (the Turkish Red Cross). Or when TV pundits repeatedly said Beşiktaş was only winning the league because Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe were ‘actively losing’, the Çarşi protested, sending 1 million set-top boxes back to the TV company.

Made in China, Wholesale markets, Eminonu, Istanbul

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is surrounded by wholesale markets where retailers and consumers from all over Turkey come to buy. We found ourselves speaking with a textile salesman called Ekrem. He works for a company, Zumrut Tekstil, that owns a factory near Beijing, China. We were hoping to make a personal connection between Istanbul and Guangzhou, a city we visited earlier in our project. He pointed us in the direction of the Sark Han wholesale market, where the products, and some of the workers, were from China. "Made in China" boxes dominated Sark Han's five story building. Every stall displayed products from the boxes, and when empty they are sent to the basement to be torn up for disposal. We found some migrant workers who were in Turkey to help smooth the supply chain from one culture to another, though none wanted to speak to us. A Turkish wholesaler, who visits China four times a year for 15 days at a time, suggested the Chinese were not talking to us for fear of being found out. "It’s more than likely they are working here illegally. They enter on a 3-month tourist visa, some overstay, some leave and re-enter Turkey to get a new tourist visa".