2012 m. lapkričio 25 d., sekmadienis

“I came to Turkey for one month in 2007, but I’m still here…”

Piero Castellano italian photographer and journalist in Ankara came to Turkey in 2007 and is staying here till nowadays. Of course he often goes back to Italy, but most of time Piero spends in capital of Turkey. He worked in Spain, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Poylenias, Chile and Venezeula. So what on earth he is here for?
Photographer Piero Castellano

Why did you decide to come to Turkey?
I came to Turkey by chance, for just one month. Of course, I knew about the beauty of the country, but still its variety surprised me. As I’ve been travelling around the country, I noticed so many diversities, such peculiar traditions and landscapes, that I realized that Turkey is a gold mine for a photographer. Soon I got to appreciate Turkish way of life, and the way they keep customs alive that once were common to the entire Mediterranean area, so I decided to settle down here.

Was it difficult to blend in at the beginning?
In spite of many cultural and daily life differences, I have to say “no, it wasn’t”. The only oddity was, and still is, how difficult is to be a single male in Turkey, being seen as a potential sexual predator by women, couples and male “competitors”: in many bars, men are not allowed without female company, and of course, this makes finding new friends very hard. On the other side, once inside of a circle of friends, it is like being a part of a family. But still a “yabanci”, a stranger more than a foreigner.

Istanbul, the owner of a makeshift shooting gallery recover his targets from the sea
You are living here from 2007. How did country change during this period?
It has changed a lot.
On one side, the quality of life has improved indeed. Prices have increased, and so, apparently consumption. But on the other side, polarization has also increased, not only between poor and rich, but also between different sections of the society. The press was much more outspoken about criticizing the government, now it looks self-restrained, and this is not surprising, considering many attacks on the Media, and the number of journalists in jail. Minorities were much more visible, until just a couple of years ago, now they are more discreet. For example, it was common to see the “sword of Ali”, an Alevi religious symbol, exhibited as jewelry or ornament. Now it has almost disappeared. Some topics like the right for abortion, and other women rights, that used to be taken for granted, now are widely debated. Also, the number of head scarved women visible in the streets has sharply increased, and if this can be seen as an effect of more tolerance towards religious people, it can also be seen as a turn to a more conservative society.
Ankara, kids go dancing toward the 1st May celebration concert

How did Turkey change you?
I am definitely more polite! Aside from personal habits, like meals time, food or entertainment preferences, the attitude towards both strangers and friends is affected by Turkish hospitality and politeness. But this can also include some level of cautiousness, lest I offend somebody with excessive confidence.

Have you faced any dangerous situations?
Traffic. Though used to drive in Naples, Turkey’s driving habits can be a tough test for European driver. Roads in bad conditions can also be a danger, especially in villages and in the East. And to take pictures of street kids in Istanbul, often under influence of substances, was a frightening experience. There was also a very sad accident, when a Turkish Air Force training jet crashed into the sea just dozens of meters from me: the two pilots did not eject to avoid crashing on the street killing people, that is to say, me.

Do you plan to stay here for long?
I don’t know yet, much will depend on how the country will change, and how I will feel here. For the moment, this would be my intention.

Do you think Turkey will ever become more European?
Turkey is already the European country. It has always been. Though this is difficult to accept for many people in Europe, and also for many Turks, the Republic of Turkey, and even the Ottoman Empire have always been a part of Europe bridging Christian and “Western” cultures with the East, and the Northern and Russian ones with the Mediterranean world. Some clear division existed only in both sides propaganda. The issue is about modernization, and as in every country that has undergone periods of forced and quick modernization (let’s think for example to Japan), conservative values become a shelter for many, especially in the family sphere. But in business, cultural and public life spheres, Turkey is more advanced than many “European” countries.
Ankara, masters of Shadow Theater perform a Karagoz&Hacivat show

What do you love and what do hate mostly about this country? How does religion influence this country?
I love almost everything about Turkey.
The food is excellent, people are friendly and polite, uniquely hospitable and everything is clean and well organized. Land and seascapes are marvelous, transportation is quite easy, the work ethics – very strong. Of course, I notice many problems, like widespread poverty and sadly, environmental issues. Though much is being done to alleviate poverty, and even the poorest can afford to live with some decorum, the environment protection is not considered a priority.

The only thing I really hate about Turkey is its bureaucracy. It is not worse than others, like the Italian one (possibly the worst in the world) but in Turkey it is actually the one thing that just does not work. While some rules are inexplicable, every department or directorate ignores what the others do, and even in the same department, especially in the Custom, different officers ask for different requirements or give different explanations. To meet English speaking personnel is a stroke of luck, even in the Foreigners Section of the Police. Remarkably, when I asked for information via email to the “Custom and Foreign Trade Office”, their answer was “Başvurular Türkçeyapılmalı.”, literally “Inquiries should be asked in Turkish.” The feeling of any foreigner forced to deal with bureaucracy is mostly of being bullied for no apparent reason. But most of the personnel are, at least, very kind.

Religion is one of the key values that keep the country together. In spite of recent, in my opinion unfortunate, developments, it does not influence too much the young Turks life or career choices, especially for the most educated ones. Unfortunately, repressions of the past have generated a revanchist spirit that pushes towards a commingling of religion with secular law, which is obviously incomprehensible to Western eyes, and inacceptable to any secularist in Turkey. Some statements also have an intimidating effect, especially with regard of alcohol consumption, becoming less acceptable in public, thus increasing in private, where it is less controlled and can bring serious problems.
Cappadocia, four Turkish women

What kind of pictures do you take here? What can we learn about Turkey from your pictures?
I mostly try to focus on traditions, folklore, craftsmanship, and street life. Archaeology, as the footprint of History, is also a common topic for me. I try to avoid controversial issues, but of course, demonstrations against the ban of abortion, or for rights of minorities, are a professional duty, and cannot be avoided.
I think my pictures show glimpses of a modern country, struggling to keep its peculiar identity, through the attachment to traditional events, arts or way of life and jealously proud of its History.

Do you think you found a key to Turkish culture? What is it?
If there is one key to understand modern Turkey’s culture, I think it’s through its history, and history teaches that Turkey is a mosaic of different customs: one people, made of many, many different cultures that blend into a unique mix. Some of the values keeping this people together are now in discussion, because of tragedies of the past, or the challenge of modernization. But people are strong, and I am optimist about the outcome of this challenge.

What do your parents think about your decision?
They are actually quite reassured that I settled down in one place. But most of my friends in Italy do not know a lot about Turkey and keep wondering how life can be in “such a different” country.

photos © 2012 Piero Castellano