Güle Güle: Documenting the changing faces of Istanbul

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As part of an ongoing interest in cities on the brink of change, Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni’s images of everyday life cover subjects of migration, religion, and press freedom in Turkey’s largest city

Güle Güle is the latest part of Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni’s ongoing commitment to documenting cities on the brink of change. Following on from projects made in Naples and Rome, the photobook looks at everyday life in Turkey’s capital, Istanbul, to explore subjects including migration, religion, and press freedom.

The artists explain that since the country’s current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party came into power in 2004, the country has started to shift both politically and culturally. The city is rapidly gentrifying, the government is enforcing stricter restrictions on the press, and international events that displaced millions of people, such as the Syrian civil war, have increased migration, changing the social fabric of the city.

The prayer room of a Bosphorus ferry, which carries thousands people every day from the European side to the Asian side Istanbul, and are part of the city’s public transportation system.
On 20 August 2018, during the 2018 lira crisis, the widely circulated Turkish pro-Erdogan paper Sabah reported that the US was planning to "drop gay bombs" on enemies countries that "will change the sexual preferences of that country’s population".

Caimi and Piccinni first met in 2013 when they worked together on the production of Caimi’s first photobook, Daily Bread. Struck by their ability to collaborate so well, they decided to produce a documentary photography project — the beginning of a long-term collaboration. The pair went on to be published internationally by the likes of Time, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, and CNN, as well as producing personal documentary projects, including a photobook about an Italian neighbourhood terrorised by the mafia, and a revealing series about the fighters of the Maidan Revolution in Kiev, Ukraine.

Made over the course of a month and named after the common words for goodbye in Turkish, Güle Güle is a vibrant and energetic journey through daily life in Istanbul. “We photographed with an unstoppable drive,” they say. “We were completely put on fire by the enormous energy that the place was expressing in this critical moment”. Caimi and Piccinni are currently crowdfunding to create a photobook of 125 images, organised into diptychs to form a continuous dialogue that mimics the instinctive way in which they travelled and photographed.

“The project is a result of our relationships with people and places, to penetrate the complexity of the city, its powerful energy and its changing and unstable nature,” they say. “In critical moments humans are able to express intense, contrasting, extreme feelings and passion. We’re deeply fascinated and moved by this, and want to attempt to replicate this with our images.”

A young married couple board the boat where they celebrate their marriage. Boat wedding parties are a popular choice among young couples, especially for middle class immigrants people from countries like Armenia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tarlabası is one of the oldest and poorest neighborhood of Istanbul. The ongoing AKP party urban renewal project and gentrification process, in addition to imposing thousands of forced evictions, it deepened the housing problems and the poverty of the local low classes, by terminating the survival strategies they had developed over the years through informal economic and social networks.
Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner worked as an editor at BJP between 2018 and 2023. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.