In an age of digital technology where the perfect selfie is the main priority, İlhami Yıldırım, a photographer working at Sabah newspaper, offers a breath of fresh air to the dying art of portraits with a contemporary twist. A project that began with a humble smartphone and an aim to test the boundaries of portrait-taking has since developed into a three-year project with 127 faces from various walks of life. Şüheda Aykut, the very first subject, to Bayram Öz, the very last face of Istanbul, and all the memorable stories that come between is a truly a vast collection of lives that make Istanbul the majestic and dynamic city it is. The still images combined with music is each a mini project, which took Yıldırım anywhere between three hours to seven hours to compile, results in a short story that rapidly reveals the inner beauty, pain and joy of individuals through numerous still images that resembles a short film.
The exhibition, which is compiled in black and white photos, is a display of short stories told through the faces of those who were brave enough to stand before Yıldırım's phone screen and tell their story through still images.
Ahmet Külsoy, famous for his long white beard and a pipe complimenting his rather eccentric semblance, is particularly intriguing to watch. His demeanor, strong yet warm, and approachability is seen tenderly combing his beard. The trademark is at the forefront of his portrait - clearly a trait he takes great pride in.
Deniz Gülen, the sports editor for Galatasaray football club's television show, is as animated and energetic in his portrait as he is during the show. A gentleman that exudes vitality, he is a sheer outpouring of energy to watch. The passion for life is captured immaculately in the welcoming look in his eyes. Asya Elkovan, the youngest face of Istanbul in the series, is a reminder to all of hope. Her gaze is optimistic, a spirit free of the world's burden, and her innocence is purifying. Every portrait tells a story and every story is intriguing.
In an interview with Daily Sabah, Yıldırım revealed the behind-the-screens story of the project.
Daily Sabah: What has this three-year journey revealed about the nature of humans and photography?
İlhami Yıldırım: This project has been a journey of great awareness for me. Not only was I faced with the challenge of capturing the true essence of a stranger I have only just met, but of telling their story with still images transformed to move the soul. With time, I came to learn that each person has a story, and no matter how hard they may try to silence it or how loud they may want to scream it, their eyes are truly the window to their soul. My screen became a connecting lens that captured raw emotion. No words, no sound, no stories; just the look into their eyes to hear their story. I found that the selfie generation doesn't hesitate to pose before the camera, so long as they are in control of the image captured. But the moment that power is in the hands of another, anxiety reaches its peak. It is in this moment that natural beauty shines. No façade, no pose, no worries; beauty in its natural form, and this is what a portrait should be.
DS: What are some memorable moments from the project?
İY: Every single project is memorable because it was my task to break down their walls and empower each subject to trust me enough to capture their story and do justice in retelling it. Their choice in music to coincide with their story often came to me as a surprise that was very befitting to complete the image. Some subjects took longer to get in the zone, while others were naturally ready to tell their story before my phone. Subjects were also given the opportunity to submit a piece of writing or picture of their choice to complement their photo in the book published, titled "Hic." Some chose their favorite poem, a short story, a picture of their parents or their pet, while others chose to use that space to declare their love to the special person in their lives. The most exciting part of this project, however, was that it was a means for certain paths to cross. Through this project, people who had never met before met for the first time only to realize their paths were destined to cross. Knowing that this project has been the reason for relationships to form gives me great joy.
DS: Now that this project is complete, what can we expect from you next?
İY: Istanbul is infamous for its traffic, and the one thing that compliments traffic is the commute via public transport. Without giving away too much, I can say that I am currently working on a project that includes the Metrobus life in Istanbul. I know it is a subject most can relate to.
The exhibition titled "Hiç," inspired by Rumi's poetry on oneness, was made possible by a hardworking and dedicated crew - Sare Tanrıverdi, Merve Güneş, Sevda Giresun and Yağmur Dinç - along with numerous talented friends who selflessly dedicated their talent to making this project possible. It is on display at the Beyoğlu Youth Center until May 7, 2016.