Images of Istanbul

cover image

By: Veronika Bernard

Publisher: LIT Verlag

Vienna, Austria: Lit Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, 2015. 133pp. $44.95. ISBN: 9783643906878

Volume: 5 Issue: 9

September 2017

Review by:

James C. A. Redman, PhD

Zayed University

Abu Dhabi

From the outset, Veronika Bernard’s recently published collection of photographs is clear about its purpose: “Istanbul Images is a photographic album devoted to the permanently changing urban face of Istanbul and trying to catch the manifold character of the city” (p. 7).  Taken over the course of a decade, from 2005 to 2014, Bernard’s photos are presented in color, black and white, as well as some that have had filtration effects applied to them.  In terms of organization, the book is divided into nine chapters, six of which are actual photographic themes that begin with “The Changing Face of Taksim Square” and end at “Istanbul Styles & Arts”.

The number of photos included in this volume could plausibly range anywhere from 55 to 110, a span that unquestionably requires some explanation.  There are 55 individually numbered and titled plates in this album, which corresponds with the author’s statements at the start of the book, notwithstanding the description on the back cover that leads the reader to expect 63 photos.  However, each numbered plate is actually a two-page spread with each page of the spread featuring a different version of the same photograph.  Thus, a pattern is repeated for all 55 plates: On the left facing page is a small (8.5 x 11.5cm or 9.5 x 12.5cm), full frame black and white rendering of a photo and on the right facing page there is an enlarged, manipulated variation of that photo which has been cropped to the dimensions of the page (20 x 20cm).  Therefore, it is hardly an abuse of arithmetic to state that when each of the 55 plates offers two interpretations of a photo, the sum of 110 images is entirely within the bounds of reason.

When turning to the photographs themselves, it is perhaps significant to note that Images of Istanbul is a product of Veronika Bernard’s other projects – as listed in her text – and that the name of one of these undertakings seems like a fitting description of the overall aesthetic represented in Images:  Snapshots.  Accordingly, many of the same merits and drawbacks that can be attach to the whole conception of snapshots as its own sort of photographic grouping are visible here.  For instance, it might be said that while the spontaneity of a snapshot approach to Istanbul can provide a degree of novelty to the visual records of this much-photographed city, there are also certain deficiencies like underexposures and blown highlights and limited tonal range that make some of the provided samples lean towards simply being too emblematic of a pedestrian snapshot.  Likewise, while the lack of an overarching pictorial premise to tie all the photos together can be refreshing, it can also make the set seem disjointed and more suggestive of how Istanbul might look through the pages of a family holiday scrapbook.

As for the subject matter in Images, Istanbul is obviously the center of attention; yet, as already mentioned, it is a vision of the city as an almost random collage of photographs.  So, indicative of this arbitrariness, there are views of taxis, pigeons, a squirrel, an insect, storefront window displays, empty outdoor café tables, graffiti, and tulips.  Of course, this is not to imply that uniformity is necessarily good or even desirable; nevertheless, some cohesive elements – whether stylistic, thematic, or technical – could easily add some semblance of interrelatedness to this visual narrative of Istanbul.  But again, like with the snapshot aesthetic, it is very likely that this mixture matches exactly with the artist’s mission as she describes it in her own words: “The… photos of this photographic album try to catch the very special Istanbul atmosphere and take the reader on a journey to the author’s favorite places” (p. 9).

Ultimately, though, there is the underlying and much broader issue that Veronika Bernard’s photographic reading of Istanbul brings to mind.  Given the snapshot techniques and the haphazard arrangement of Bernard’s book, it does make one curious to know how hardcopy sets like this are going to compete with – and be differentiated from – all of the other similarly shot journeys to favorite places that are already assembled in a scattershot manner online.  The fundamental reality is that with the ubiquity of camera phones bolstering the widespread usage of sites like Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, and Pinterest, experiencing someone else snap shooting an uncoordinated path through foreign cities is as easy as a keyword search.  Hence, from the vantage point of today’s digital era of photography, it must be asked:  Is there anything outside of price and a printed format that distinguishes an artist’s snapshots from those of an amateur, or is such a distinction already obsolete?

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