Away from Home by Kürsat Bayhan

Kürsat Bayhan‘s photobook “Away from Home” is one of these books that immediately become unforgettable after you have seen it for the first time. It brings you to the shady and also sad world of Istanbul’s day labourers who migrated from the East and South East parts of the country. Today, there are said to be 2,5 million internal migrants coming from 4.000 villages. Most of them could not join the work force in their region of origin because of the industrialisation of the agricultural processes over there. Others escaped from the ethnic conflict between the Turkish military and the PKK.

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© Kürsat Bayhan

They live in Istanbul in a city neighbourhood (Eminönu, Kücükpazar) where the buildings seem to be partly collapsed, partly never fully constructed. The broken pavements are covered with trash. The buildings are neon-lit inside, or unlit because the dead bulbs are not replaced. The walls are grey both inside and outside. The windows have no curtains. The rooms contain tables without cloths, beds without sheets.

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© Kürsat Bayhan

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© Kürsat Bayhan

The men that are dwelling in Kücükpazar only dispose of a cigarette, a cup of tea or a football match on a television screen as incentives to carry on. They are far away from home, like this curious man below about whom Kürsat wrote some commentary.

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© Kürsat Bayhan

“He didn’t talk much while l was taking his picture. But l could feel that he was dreaming while he was looking through the window out. This is a very cheap hotel.  And he was sharing his room with one person.  As the owner of the hotel told me he was well educated person but he went bankrupt  and he was living in that room more than 5 years. He makes his life by collecting garbage.”

This curious man, whose portrait was made with so much dignity and understanding, found a shelter in the larger community of Turkey’s internal migrants. They all have to work seven days a week selling scrap or collecting trash. They earn 200 euros per month out of which they have to reserve 50 euros for a shared room.

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© Kürsat Bayhan

“They have small keys for the room. Each room is  participated by 4 up to 15 persons.”

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© Kürsat Bayhan

“This is a small corridor that ends with a small dark room where porters have rest. Before they enter the room, they leave their saddles to the corridor. Because the room is so small.”

Kürsat’s story about Turkey’s internal migrants (2.5 million coming from approximately 4.000 villages) is unforgettable because he succeeded to expose the bare facts of their lives (the severe faces and the broken down bodies, Laurence Cornett) while leaving their dignity intact.

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© Kürsat Bayhan

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© Kürsat Bayhan

More specifically, Kürsat seems to be able to reveal from each of his characters a personal touch that singles them out from the rest (e.g. the particular way someone wears his coat or takes up his cigarette, glass of tea, prayer beads …). It is this particularity that not only adds something to their dignity but also makes them more concrete, more personal (unforgettable) for us. Since Kürsat is able to render this dignity and these particularities, he easily manages to come away with the fact that he shows their difficult world in a poetic manner. The poetic style in black and whites does not alienate them from their reality.

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© Kürsat Bayhan

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© Kürsat Bayhan

The poetry makes that he lifts the migration theme in Turkey to a higher level. In “Away from Home“, there is not only the issue of migration as a local phenomenon, neutralizing economic disparities between Istanbul and the rural villages. The dignified representation of these migrants is lifting their individual fates to the universal fate of all those who have to work far away from home and who have to overcome perpetual feelings of loss and longing. Migrant workers in the first place understand that dignity and the possibility to express one’s personality is essential when facing the plight of labour.

What I also like in Kürsat’s book is that he took the trouble to go and visit the rural villages from which the migrants are coming. He inserted a number of photographs of these places that mirror the flashbacks the new Istanbulites must have in their imagination, while working.

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© Kürsat Bayhan

He also pointed out that today’s internal migration inTurkey is totally different from earlier waves of migration from the countryside. “Today only the men and the boys are able to come to Istanbul. They don’t have the means to bring their families.

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Our father is working in Istanbul. He could not come home because he works, but he sent these dresses for us as Eid al Fitr gifts.”

Thank you very much Mr. Bayhan!