Murat Harmanlikli is a Turkish photographer that works amazingly with black and white. His love for the streets and its inhabitants is palpable in his photographs 

In this interview he tells us about working in his country, the silverline that connects his work, the influence that Dostoevskij has had on him and much more…

How has your journey in photography started?

It was all a coincidence that started with buying a Zenith camera while walking around the streets of İstanbul when I was at the second year of university. One year later, my father brought me a Minolta camera from Germany, while at the same time I had just begun to use black and white films and had discovered a darkroom in my city-İzmit. The slow appearance of a black and white print through a chemical process charmed me. I fell in love. And since that day the journey has begun.

You have defined yourself as a “flaneur”, a figure made famous by the writer Charles Baudelaire. Can you tell us something about what makes you identify with this image and how it interacts with you being a photographer?

As known, the term of ” Flaneur ” was first used by Charles Baudelaire in his essay ” Le Peintre de la vie Moderne – The Painter of Modern Life ” in ” Le Figaro ” at 1863 as below;

“For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world.”

When i first read this essay and met the term “Flaneur”, I felt immediately so close to it, so familiar, because, for as long as i’ve known myself, i’ve always loved  to walk along the streets like a stray dog. While merging into crowds, amongst which I hide and lose myself and driven by the mass of people, I can feel the soul and the sense of the streets. A sound of a ferry siren, the noise of car tyres on the wet asphalt when it is raining, the smell of sea or the  moist scent coming from the open door of an old apartment… These things all make me feel like I am in a poem. So all I want to do in my photography is to reflect this poem from my vision, from the way i see the world.

Out of your black and white photos, many are wonderful portraits of what -seem- street kids. What fascinates you of these subjects?

I can simply say that I love kids playing in the streets. I am 45 years old and sometimes I still feel like a child, like all of us. They are full of surprises and always joyful. If you talk with them, and ease them up so that they can feel close to you, then you can make incredible photos with them.

Rumi said: ” The light which shines in the eye is really the light of the heart. I am bewildered by the magnificence of your beauty; and wish to see you with a hundred eyes…” I love the shine in kids eyes. It keeps me alive.

In what way would you describe, as a photographer, the aesthetics of the places you shoot in Turkey? What are the aspects that most attract you?

Actually the place doesn’t matter for me. Since I carry always my camera, I can take photos at any place I go to. In a car, a bus station, or in a cafe… You can’t know where the photograph will find you so you must keep your eyes open. Usually, I shoot in my city, İzmit, which is placed about 100km east of İstanbul…and of course in İstanbul, the city which is no doubt a treasure for street photography.

Mirrors, windows, and reflections are a recurring element in your images. What role would you say these play in your imagery and mind?

I can’t exactly explain the reason why these elements are recurring in my photography. Maybe because everyone has -less or more- his own obsessions; or maybe for a symbolic expression regarding life, which consists itself of repetitions. I can say that there is something with mirrors, reflections, and windows that attracts me a lot. They add a kind of obscureness to the story I want to tell. And you know life is mostly uncertain, or at least mine is.

On the other hand, I really enjoy recurring motifs in an artist’s portfolio, if they are used for a specific purpose. For example, in all three movies of Three Color Trilogy of Krzysztof Kieslowski, we see a particular scene where an old person is putting a bottle in the trash with great difficulty and, in each movie, this same scene symbolizes different terms: in one (blue)  it refers to the term of freedom, in another (white) it is equality and in the last (red) it refers to fraternity.

The series “Passengers and Strangers” is introduced by the quote out of Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment that goes: “Do you understand sir, do you understand what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to go? For every man must have somewhere to go.” Where is your personal place to go? How does this quote link to the theme of the series?

Yes, Dostoyevsky… His books have a great impact on my life and on my photography. I absolutely agree with what Jorge Luis Borges said: “Like falling in love for the first time, like seeing the sea for the first time; exploring Dostoyevsky is an important date in human’s life.”

Working on the “Passengers-Strangers” series, I mostly chose the rush hour of the crowd during winter. I was standing at bus stops, walking along that society in dark coats, watching people and the expressions on their faces. All these people were together, they were all close to each other, yet so far away and lonely. This scene seemed to me like they all were escaping from their loneliness and trying to reach somewhere, or somebody, to be immediately saved. While standing in the middle of this rush madness, that quote of Marmeladov, a character from Dostoyevski’s book, came to my mind: “ Do you understand sir, do you understand what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to go? For every man  must have somewhere to go.”

You are also an editor for the page “Friends in Profile”. Can you tell us more of this project and what being an editor has changed in your vision and photography?

You know, there are lots of hubs that featuring photographs on Instagram. @friendsinprofile is made of six friends and the founder, the dear Nazilla has a golden heart. On @friendsinprofile the goal I want to reach with my team  mates Najl’aa Dadbar and Iris Maria Tusa , is to feature photos that are not only beautiful but that also tell a story, without caring of how many likes we get. I think this makes the difference with other hubs.

Being an editor on @friendsinprofile, has made me pass more time on Instagram searching for good photos to feature while also making me more talkative and social. Lately, I participated in the first International Istanbul InstaMeet, which is also supported  by @friendsinprofile, and this gave me a chance to meet a lot of good photographers in person.

The best piece of advice you have received as a photographer?

In fact, I don’t remember. As a self-taught photographer, I haven’t quite listened to many advice. In any case, everyone lives a different life and looks to the world from different windows…if something works well for you, it doesn’t mean that it will work for me too!

What I do believe is that if you care enough about photography, if you seriously try to learn it, then you will definitely find your way. Of course, this doesn’t mean one shouldn’t listen to advise -on the contrary, all advice should be listened to. But in the end, your thoughts should be important, not the ones of others.

An artist you want to suggest to us? Why?

There are lots of them. I like the photographers who are able to show the world through their unique eyes. Lately Iranian photographers have taken my attention so much: I love to spend  time on their portfolios and really admire the way they can tell stories with photographs.

Next and upcoming projects?

Before I was writing some short and long stories. My next project is to combine them with my photographs and, after editing the whole thing, I want to create a kind of photo romance.

Credits: Murat Harmanlikli

Follow Murat Harmanlikli: