IstanbulSorry, I do not provide phone information or address

Turkey pictures

Syria pictures

Italy pictures

Frequently Asked Questions

On 31 January 2006 an interview appeared concerning my pictures in the Turkish newspaper Radikal. In preparing for that I answered a number of questions for the reporter. Doing so, I realized I had actually answered a number of questions people asked me before. That was the start of this page

When did you come to Turkey for the first time? Why?

As for “why Turkey”: the first time I went there was in the early seventies, and I hardly knew what I was doing. With a friend I just went off to one of those destinations that were popular at the time. Other friends went on to India, but for me and this friend Istanbul, Bursa and Izmir were the end of our own hippy trail. That is, after three weeks he had to return to Amsterdam and social security, I, as a student, was “of independent means” and could stay longer. After my first flight ever - from Bursa to Istanbul at only twice the rate of a bus fare - I decided to do some more air travel. I flew to Malatya (don’t ask me why), went overland to Erzincan and Erzerum, and returned to Istanbul and the Tauern Orient Express – a train - that would take me back home in three horrible days of travel.

After that I forgot about Turkey and Italy became my preferred destination. I think I must have visited that country 30, maybe 40 times. To me it is more satisfactory to really know a country, then to “collect countries” like I see many people do. I also love to return to places I like, and gradually feel less of a foreigner. To know the small alleys in Venice, Roma, Naples or Palermo gave me great pleasure. Then one time, say 1992 or 1993, boredom set in. I had had enough of baroque churches, renaissance palaces and all that. Also, things were getting expensive. I had just spent a week in Venice when a girlfriend told me she had been to Turkey for about the same amount of money. But she had toured the country for four weeks, from Istanbul to Hatay and back. I decided to give it a try, found I liked the country a lot, and also realized that whereas I could travel Italy only with trains and the occasional bus (I don’t know how to drive a car, living in the heart of Amsterdam it’s no use, and a waste of money and resources), in Turkey with its phenomenal otobüs and dolmuş system I could travel very easily.

After four or five visits I became interested in the language, that I learned to some extent (I still lack a lot of vocabulary, but know most of the grammar), which gave me another reason to go there. And then, while in Italy I was always a bit of an outsider. In Turkey I feel like a welcome guest.

Is there something unique about Turkey that makes you visit with this frequency?

I don’t know very many countries. I have been to most European countries once, nearby ones a bit more often, but never “travelled the globe”. I feel the hospitality and friendliness of many Turkish people is really remarkable, and contributes a lot to my returning. There seems to be a genuine interest in foreigners. This may have to do with a lack of information With the internet and better television programs – with more open discussions on any subject, as is the case in my country – people may find they’re better informed and be less interested in the contribution the conversation with a foreigner may bring. But I think “hospitality” and politeness is somehow engrained into the Turkish character, and I hope they stay.

I should also mention the language: I was taught several languages in the “lise”, then learned Italian and some Spanish. I love languages, and when I read that Turkish is of an utterly different language family (not a Indo-European one like the others I know) I decided to try and learn it. I am still learning. Memorizing words is the hardest part, the grammar is elegant and can be understood. So the language is another factor that makes me return.

Then there is the transport system. There are now areas in the Netherlands, my home country, where busses only stop if you’ve phoned to the company in advance and where only a few busses pass every day anyhow. In Turkey travel is a dream. Hardly ever do I wait more then an hour in any "otogar" to get on a bus to the next city, or even to a city 300, 400 kilometres away. On board you get coffee or tea and sweets, and there are regular stops to eat and visit a toilet. In smaller towns there is always the dolmuş, and if not, people offer you a ride. When I walk in the country I often have to decline a ride, telling people that I am really there to walk. When I decline the offer the driver may look at me with surprise, particularly if I’m walking up hill, sweat all over my face.

I do not particularly long for “Europe”, though I would like to spend some days in a major museum – as I used to do in the British Museum or the Louvre) and absorb some paintings of a quality I do not see in Turkey.

I sometimes feel an urge to go and see another country for a change, just like I may one day start publishing my Italy pictures (there must be 12.000 or more, and some of them are quite good, I think, though the cars will look outdated after 15 or even 25 years). In 2009 I made a start of visiting other countries in the region, starting with Syria. In 2013 I went to Jordan, Syria being too dangerous. There is a fair chance that gradually I will visit some countries in the region also. But returning to Turkey to me is like returning home.

Why do you seem to prefer eastern regions of Turkey?

First let me be clear about this: I do not “prefer” the Eastern regions. I like Turkey, to start with. My many pictures from the west show this. But I like a certain type of country, or city, and people. I don’t like to feel like a tourist. You will never see me in shorts, I don’t like to sit on a terrace for stretches of time, just baking in the sun. I am a mover and a watcher, and for watching tourists - which I don't like - I could stay in Amsterdam. So you may find me in a place where tourists go, but then mostly off season, when there are less of them, or even none.

Istanbul in winter is great fun, and much more quiet than in the height of season. So, by the time the tourists start flocking to the beaches, I go East or to the Black Sea. I also dislike modern shopping malls (though I have started to visit some of the most impressive ones), promenades and so forth. I like places where you can see history, where the life is still a bit rough, where people walk rather then sit in cars. For such reasons the Eastern parts (and the Black Sea coast) are ideal.

Also, there is so much space. In the Netherlands every square meter has an owner, has been ploughed for generations, or has been built over ten times. In Turkey there is more space, and in particular in the East. No fences, you can walk for miles without meeting anybody (well, sometimes you run into a school class and then you’re definitely not alone anymore). Holland is also very, very flat. Not so in Eastern Turkey. I had to get used to the dryness of some of the country, but it has a beauty of its own. And when I went to Doğubeyazit early in the year I saw many shades of green, fresh grasses growing after the winter snow, and also saw them be covered in an instance by the occasional shower of sleet. It was freezing, but what beauty!

And I like Seljuk architecture, for which places like Sivas, Erzurum, Bitlis and many others are great. I am not certain the Divriği mosque may be called Seljuk, but that in itself is worth hours of travel. The Diyarbakır Ulu Camii, the Armenian remains in Ani near Kars, and so forth and so on.

As for being afraid: I don’t see why. I feel totally at ease in every spot I go. I worked with addicts for much of my professional life and I have an eye for trouble. But I never spotted it to the extent I would feel it in some European cities, including Amsterdam. I often walk the poor areas of all cities I visit (and I forgot to mention I nearly always travel alone) and never had trouble with things being stolen or getting into fights, which is what people might fear. I am 1 meter 90 though, and look strong. But I think that’s not the reason I feel safe: it’s safe. In the Netherlands I would never contemplate leaving my luggage in the hands of the people of a bus company or just a shop next door. They wouldn’t accept it probably, much to much afraid of the bombs the police is warning us for. In Turkey I do so.

On the other hand: one never should act like a fool. I remember (from Italy, Napels) the sad tale told by a family that had just been robbed. They had done everything wrong: all passports and money in one bag, the bag hanging at the side where there was a street, walking into the direction the traffic went, and that in one of the districts renowned for it’s crime. And of course chatting with each other, not looking about them. A Vespa (scooter) had passed them, the passenger had grabbed the bag and they had taken off with all their belongings. That’s a kind of behaviour that may get you in trouble anywhere. So I am not saying you can close your eyes and feel safe everywhere.

The one time people did try to rob me however was in Istanbul, at an Aksaray crossing. One man asked me if I wanted to go to a cinema with him (????), and I declined the offer. Then two others sandwiched me, complaining that I would not join him. I realised there was something very wrong and shouted “Help, I am being robbed”. In English, sorry. They disappeared and I later found I missed one item that they had taken from a front pocket of my jacket: the free Istanbul street map from the tourist office. I think that after 60 (2014 count) trips to Turkey that is not bad.

Can you share some of  your memories (with the locals in eastern provinces) with us?

Well, I remember meeting shepherds when hiking in the hills above Mustapha Pasha Saray in Doğubeyazit. Most tourists don’t get higher then that palace, and it is well worth a visit. But the more spectacular views you get once you climb on, up the hills in its back. And then suddenly a Kangal dog may start to bark, and you’re in a flock of sheep. I found Kangal dogs look fierce, but a camera shies them somehow, I think the lens is the evil eye for them. And a good advice is to carry some of that nice cake they call “kek”, with or without chocolate. What at one instant is a threatening animal, the next is your friend. A problem may be that when the shepherds arrives, the dogs have eaten all the keks. Sorry, boys. There is a dog I know in a village near Inebolu, Black Sea. He threatened me the first time, but after some visits and cake he recognized me after I stayed away for a year. As for the shepherds, it is strange to meet people who spend much of their time high up in the mountains, alone, with just some dogs and maybe a fellow shepherd. I would get bored out of my mind. I would bring a book. I never met a shepherd with a book. My Turkish is not good enough to start a proper conversation about what goes on in their minds as they walk and wait, and watch the grass grow, and see the sheep eat.

The first time I went to Doğubeyazit was shortly after the PKK had declared an armistice. I got a ride from some man, and we started talking (I speak broken Turkish). I asked if the PKK was somehow still active there, and he said “No”. I answered “That’s great” and only then realised this was a total stranger, who well might have been a PKK-member. It made me be a bit more careful with what I say. I still am somewhat careful bringing up a political issue with a stranger.

I liked a meeting with two communists in Van. I am not a communist myself, but to hear them criticize everybody and everything made me realize this country was less monolithic then it sometimes wants to be. In the Netherlands we’re very used to speaking our mind, but my mind may be too much for some people abroad (and not only in Turkey). In them I at least met some people who were willing to openly speak about  “anything”. Nowadays, I find this willingness is increasing all over the country, as usual first amongst the students, teachers, professors and so forth. A good sign.

I was a bit alarmed by all the roadblocks when I first went from Bitlis to Siirt, I had to show my passport to soldiers with machine guns. At that time busses would be regularly stopped for checks on one time papers, next time luggage, sometimes people would be taken off the bus. Later I went there again: no road blocks, a smooth ride. I still owe Siirt an apology for presenting it as an utterly poor city. Though the centre has some very old and poor districts (that will probably disappear) I saw stretches of new housing blocks the last time (2005) I went there. That’s an aspect my pictures don’t show: the renewal of whole districts and regions that’s also “the East”. I was relieved to find there’s a link to Siirt on the city’s website, they must have forgiven me.

I stayed in many cities in the East last year, amongst them Diyarbakir, and it struck me that the number of people who brought up the subject of “being Kurdish” is coming down, and if that subject comes up, it is with more of a smile than, say, ten years ago. The same goes – by the way – for the Laz people I meet, or the Armenians or Arab people I meet. Diyarbakır seemed more relaxed than a couple of years earlier. It may be the effect of my improved knowledge of Turkish and consequently more relaxed attitude.

I may be mistaken but I think many women in the East are less afraid of strangers, more open than used to be the case. They impress me as strong and proud. Again, maybe it’s my better understanding of the language, but I have many conversations with women doing their washing or preparing meals. It may have to do with the fact that many activities like these are done outdoors, people are sitting in their yards or even on the street itself, if there is no yard. And when I pass them I am in sight so suddenly, they have to face me or ignore me. Most face me, only rarely will a woman cover her face and shy away. More often they will shout to the other women to join in the conversation. It helps to greet politely, which I do by nature. Often they explain what they do, invite me to join them in a meal, or prepare tea, and I often can make some pictures too. Now, to a great extent this can be done all over the country, but in the big cities and in the west in general life seems to be less in the open. Though I have great memories of the gypsies in Bursa and Edirne, Iznik also. Maybe wealth is the issue here, if people get too wealthy, you don’t get in touch with them that easily. Or you bore them more easily – and the other way round.

The second or third time I went to the East I stayed in Şanlıurfa and wanted to book a ride to Harran. The operator of that trip told me to come back later that day, then he would know if next day there would be a bus. When I returned he told me the authoress of the Lonely Planet Guide was in town, and he intended to organize a special ride. If I felt like that I could join her and another tourist. He had written to the guide, indicating it should pay more attention to the east, and this was their response. I happily booked for the grand tour and we spent a fine day, seeing the desert country, visiting many spots where signs of the sun and moon indicated sacred site of ancient religions. We visited the house of a relative of the driver, a woman who served us tea and just as we were about to leave, it turned out she had slaughtered a chicken, expecting us to stay for a meal. Hospitality in action. She was extremely poor, and we felt rotten (and handed her some money as a compensation). We visited some more ancient sites, and another family where we had tea again, then saw Harran. The Lonely Planet woman told me that the last time she went here it had been desert all around, now it was green with fields of cotton because of the dams up north. By the time we got back the tour operator was waiting anxiously by the kerb as we were much, much too late. We had enjoyed ourselves so much we had asked the driver to take it slow. Later we had dinner with the tour organizer and the authoress told us that the Lonely Planet Guide would give more information about the East: it was worth it, and it was safer then before. She kept her word. I for myself have felt safe always, and think the East deserves a visit thoroughly.

Do you have any plans to collect all Turkey photos in an album or do you have other projects about the  Turkey photos?

Well, I myself do not take initiative in that direction. Bus as you can see on my "Me in print" page I have contributed to many other peoples' publications. Also my pictures are on many sites, with or without links, about subjects like religious places to visit in the Mediterranean area, about mosaics, about the Haghia Sophia, some in an encyclopaedia about religions and so forth. And people who made sites about a specific place, like Mardin, Midiyat and Akkuş and many more have used my pictures or linked to it. I generally do this for free, just want to know what happens. Similarly, some professors have written that they used them in their presentations, and some students that they used it in a thesis or other university work. No problem there.

Only recently I am thinking that maybe the pictures – some of them – are a bit better than average and deserve some wider circulation. On one hand, the site is there for precisely that reason. But a book would be nice. Only, I am not really lazy, but I am not fond of “projects”. On my job I am involved in several, and my experience is they cost a lot of time, with sudden spurts of activity, lots of time waiting and then lots of stress. I may be too lazy for that. I much rather take (and edit and post) pictures. But if a publisher were to make me an offer I couldn’t refuse, who knows? 

When and why did you start taking photographs?

I started taking pictures approximately when I was twelve. My father let me use his simple camera, and I started taking pictures when on holidays. Though we got a television late, we had a camera for as far back as I can remember. But maybe more importantly, I knew a professional photographer almost from birth. His name was Ad Windig, he was the father of friends of mine  and from the back of my house I could see the back of theirs. I went there daily. His darkroom was within walking distance, and we sometimes would see how huge pieces of paper were taken from the developer baths after they’d magically changed from a simple white paper into a fine picture. He was mildly famous, and during WW II had belonged to a small group of  photographers who took pictures of Amsterdam under German occupation. We lost contact when I was eight or nine, but it had made a lasting impression.

When I was about seventeen another school friend reintroduced me to the medium, but more actively. We became members of a photography club, where members would, once a month, compare their pictures and drive each other mad with questions regarding technical issues like ASA (ISO), shutter speed, aperture, make of film used and so forth. They hardly spoke about composition, but they helped me look at photography as a form of expression with technical aspects that could be learned. This was a blessing, because in drawing lessons at school I was a total failure. The important thing was that members had access to a darkroom, and I learned to develop my own black and white films, and then print them, improving their quality with tricks I still use, but now digitally.

I later bought increasingly professional equipment, and – after having had a darkroom that I would set up in my kitchen for a while and finding that too much of a bother – switched to slide film. Slides only required putting them in a frame. Another reason was that I liked the colour work, and I had become friends with some people who shot a lot of slides, and then would organize evenings where they would show and comment on them. Again there were the discussions about film and aperture used, but composition was much more important. Very important, because with slides the shot has to be right straight away. You cannot correct exposure, colour or composition afterwards. That taught me how to frame tightly and pay attention to technique.

Of course there are many other influences: a bookstore specializing in photography, selling books by the great, classical photographers, the local museums showing works by major artists. And I shouldn’t forget National Geographic: some of the finest travel photography is in that magazine, month after month. I had a subscription for many years.

Do you edit your pictures

Yep. I am very glad that Photoshop and similar programs allow me to edit my pictures. I am aware of the discussion on this topic. On one hand the purists that would almost like me to publish the digital "negative" without further ado (they would allow me to decrease size for practical purposes). On the other hand the people who would love me to show every scene as if it was taken on a cloudless sunny summerday. I am somewhere in between. I think there is a strong tendency on the net into the latter direction, and I don't like the results. Many pictures are overly saturated, and blare at the viewer "look at me, I'm beautiful". I beg to disagree. Rain is rain, fog is fog, and you must show that was the type of weather you encountered on that day. But when I find that a fool has parked his car in front of a beautiful monument I'll spend minutes of photoshopping to get rid of it. I crop routinely, adjust perspective within reasonable bounds, correct lense distortion if I find it helps, change some of the saturation, contrast, light levels and all that. I increasingly take several adjacent shots and merge them into a panorama. When working with scanned slides I take out specks of dust and the occassional hair. And in particular with scanned images I use "auto colour" a lot, because scans can be lopsided on this or that colour, in particular with artificial light. And - sometimes after tens of years - I do not always remember the precise colour of an object, so I may make mistakes. If I do not have a clue at all I'll try to provide a view that at least gives information on the subject matter. You will find I take lots of pictures of ancient hewn objects. Sometimes the stone used will be too dark to see the image, even when looking at the original in the museum. Then I may change the colour of that stone. Often I do not recall if the material was marble, sandstone, granite or what. Since in general the subject is the main issue I will go for clarity and forget about the material.

One piece of advice concerning the Pbase site:

I did not start my site in order to give a balanced view of Turkey (the same goes for the Syria site and the upcoming Italy site). I started it, because I had many pictures that I took over many years, that I wanted to show. After I started I took thousands more. But it is NOT a project with a goal like "Showing Turkey as it really is", let alone “Showing Turkey to such an advantage that the European Union shall be waving flags when Turkey arrives at the gate” (although I would welcome Turkey into the EU).

I have a preference for old houses and poorer neighbourhoods, because that’s where life if lively, not in the sterile new shopping arcades - those I plenty have in my country. Recently I have to spend part of my spare time defending myself against people who almost hate me because I did not provide a "proper" view of their city. Ankara seems to be hard hit: on request of my travel agent I took pictures of the neighbourhood where he grew up, Yeni Doğan. I liked them, so put them on the site. His happened to be a poor neighbourhood, so people started to complain that I do not show Ankara “as it is”. They overlook that I tried to compensate for this by taking a series of pictures of the Armada building, in my opinion one of the better new buildings in town. Some claimed “this was not Ankara”, probably because they never get out of their car. I kept answering them, but I stopped when they used foul language.

Also comments are quite discriminatory, directed against their poorer fellow citizens. Also people who now live in, say, Ankara never realise that the new apartment buildings may be a cities pride, but the people who were born in their town, but now live in Germany, or the US, or Australia, want to see the old houses they knew in their childhood.

The famous photographer Weegee made pictures of the raw side of New York: crime, poverty, the police in action. If he had started a site like mine he would probably have received similar complaints "Why don't you show the new skyscraper on xx street, why always murder? Why not the new bank offices at … or the jewellery at ….?" Well, simply, because he was his own master and took the shots he liked. I almost weekly have to explain why I did not show the latest superstore, the fine new flats in the yy district, the chamber of commerce building in city Z. If I liked those things I could much more easily stay at home.

Well, the images should tell the rest.