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
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
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?
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
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
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
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.
I decline the offer the driver may look at me with surprise,
particularly if I’m walking up hill, sweat all over my face.
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
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. There is a fair chance that gradually I will visit some countries of Turkey's neighboring. But returning to Turkey to me is like returning home.
Why do you seem to prefer eastern regions of Turkey?
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.
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
like Seljuk architecture, for which places like Sivas, Erzurum,
Bitlis and many others are great. I am not certain the
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.
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 45 (2010 count) trips to Turkey that is not bad.
Can you share some of your memories (with the locals in eastern provinces) with us?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
When and why did you start taking photographs?
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
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
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.
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.
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. One one hand the purists that would almost like me to publish the digital negative without further ado (the 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 inbetween. 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 perspectie within reasonable bounds, correct lense distortion if I find it helps, change some of the saturation, contrast, light levels and all that. 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:
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).
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.
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
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.