Penang, Malaysia-based travel photographer David Hagerman recently sent me an email with several links. I’ll admit, I went straight to clicking before reading much of the text, so I wasn’t sure what to expect as a new window popped up. After the first screen of images loaded, I immediately started to click through the rest of the links. Each one lead me to eye catching photo essays of Turkey—some in vivid colors, other in demure black and white—photos that David had been taking and collecting for many years now.
I was curious to know more about the photos and the story behind them, so I got in touch with David for a little chat….
What drew you to Turkey?
I came to Turkey for the first time in the winter of 1998 when I was living in Shanghai. I needed a “China break,” spun the globe and my finger landed on Turkey. After a week in Istanbul, I rented a car and drove south and east, getting as far as Antalya on the Mediterranean. During that trip, the Turkey bug bit and I returned each of the next three years, always renting a car and driving—Aegean to eastern Anatolia, the Med to the Black Sea. The Turkish countryside is astoundingly beautiful and varied. I’m drawn by what waits around the next corner.
You’ve visited so many countries, what makes Turkey special? What keeps bringing you back?
After I moved to southeast Asia in 2002, I got sidetracked by the region’s riches and didn’t actually return to Turkey until mid-2010, when I attended the Foundry Photojournalism workshop in Istanbul. Before the workshop, during which I worked on the Istanbul ferry boat piece, my wife and I spent a few weeks driving out east, from Gaziantep to Van and up to Kars, on the Armenian border. It was like a dormant love affair had been rekindled. We wondered why we’d stayed away so long and decided to “give in” to this pull we felt to Turkey. We’ve been back three times since and will spend much more time here in the coming months and years.
Do you have any plans for the many photos you’ve taken in Turkey? Book, galley, etc?
We (my wife, writer Robyn Eckhardt, and I) are in the proposal research phase for a very low-to-the-ground cookbook with stories and photo essays focusing on parts of Turkey away from Istanbul and the well-trod Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. Beyond that, I’m shooting whatever and whomever interests me. I foresee this as a long-term project; I plan to revisit particular people and places again and again over the next 2-3 years.
Have you learned anything from Turkey?
To slow down and ‘roll’ with it. Turks are incredibly hospitable. In earlier trips I might have been shy to accept offers of tea or a home-cooked meal but I’m more relaxed now. These gestures have lead to some amazing experiences.
Do you have a favorite image?
Many (but I’m biased). One, in particular, is from a tea house in Mardin. The man pictured seemed a little gruff on the surface but I couldn’t resist, so I asked him if I could take a few photos. When he agreed I pulled up a chair across from him and snapped away.
What are some challenges to photographing in Turkey?
Men, in particular, like to have their photos taken but tend to get in these stiff, formal positions. I find that I have to work a little with them to get them back to ‘normal’. Women, on the other hand, often do not like to be photographed so I have to work a little harder so that more of the population is represented in my photos.
Have these photographs resulted in any commercial or editorial work?
I photographed a NYT Travel piece on the emergence of the ancient southeastern town of Mardin as an arts and culture center, and one on Galata, in Istanbul for Food & Wine Magazine. I’m also a contributor to the American online food/wine magazine Zester Daily and have had slideshows on the Black Sea region there.
What have the responses been to the photos so far?
Very good. It’s especially nice to hear from Turks who say that I’ve shown them a side or aspect of their country that they’d not seen.
Any stories that stand out from your time in Turkey?
Many, but one in particular from a trip this past fall on the Black Sea. I was photographing a beautiful old ambar (grain barn) when the barn’s owner came out to ask me what the heck I was doing on her property. Long story short, my admiration of this elderly woman’s storage barn lead to an invitation to lunch in her equally beautiful, 70-year-old timber farmhouse, and a parting gift of walnuts and hazelnuts from her trees. I intend to revisit her and her husband later this year.