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I don’t remember where I first encountered Murat Germen’s discombobulated wall-sized photographs, but when I heard that some of them were coming to the Aga Khan, I jumped at the opportunity for a second encounter.
Germen is a sort of photographic expressionist. Because in his fashion he documents the impact of 'progress' upon historical cities, and since he has been known to toss off one or two anti-capitalist remarks along the way, some people consider him a kind of urban activist.
Altho to my mind I was off to see a Murat Germen exhibit, the actual subject was Germen’s hometown Istanbul, with Germen’s photos being the main items on display. The exhibit, scheduled to close at the end of June, is titled A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul Then and Now.
The “then” in the title is the 19th century, when Istanbul was the hub of the Ottoman Empire. Those happened to be the pioneering days of photography and in Istanbul a practice quickly developed of Ottoman “court photographers” producing vast panoramas of the city by combining up to a dozen pictures snapped systematically from its hills and towers.
Certainly old Istanbul was a photogenic city, crouched on hills over the Bosporus and the Golden Horn, with the great dome and minarets of Hagia Sophia as a logical focal point.
But modern Istanbul, in Germen's telling, is a city under siege. Neighborhoods and landmarks crumble beneath an unstoppable onslaught of growth and modernization. Open space and “human scale” are the first casualties. Like major cities everywhere, Istanbul seems doomed to be americanized/globalized — we may as well say barbarized — with skyscrapers and expressways serving vast commutersheds.