Away from Home by Kürsat Bayhan

Kürsat Bayhan‘s photobook “Away from Home” brings you to the shady and also tough world of Istanbul’s day labourers who migrated from the eastern and southeastern parts of the country. Today, there are said to be 2,5 million internal migrants in the city coming from 4.000 villages. Most of them could not join the work force in their region of origin because of the modernization of agricultural production. Others escaped from the ethnic conflict between the Turkish military and the Kurdish PKK.

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© Kürsat Bayhan

From what we see, 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 have never been eplaced. 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 me 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 who 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.”

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© Kürsat Bayhan

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© Kürsat Bayhan

Mr. Bayhan seems to be able to reveal from each of his subjects 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 makes his story a memorable one.

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© Kürsat Bayhan

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© Kürsat Bayhan

His version of the humanist tradition in photography lifts the migration theme in Turkey to a higher level. The individual fates of the migrants are lifted 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.

What I also like in Kürsat’s book is that he went to the rural villages from which the migrants are coming. He inserted a number of photographs of these places that could reflect the flashbacks the new Istanbulites must have while working.

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© Kürsat Bayhan

According to Mr. Bayhan, today’s internal migration in Turkey is totally different from the earlier waves of migration. “Today only the men and the boys are able to come to Istanbul. They don’t have the means to bring their families.” It makes the following image that was made far away from Istanbul very touching;

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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.”