Yener Torun is a 32 year-old architect who has turned Istanbul into the geographical equivalent of Aladdin’s cave of wonders. Tucked away among the beautiful Ottoman and Byzantine architecture and the blue Bosphorus are a wealth of impossibly bright buildings dominated by geometric patterns, rainbow hues and funny architectural idiosyncrasies. And through his Instagram account, Yener has been slowly but steadily documenting it all.
His photographs are more impressive than any we’ve ever seen taken for Instagram so we spoke to Yener about what drives him to unearth these gems, the difficulty of looking for the bright and the brash in a city which is largely subtle and traditional in its landscapes and the developing art and design scene in the Turkish city.
What made you first start photographing buildings in Istanbul?
I started photographing buildings with Instagram actually. The reception was very positive from the beginning and that encouraged me to take more pictures. At first I was shooting black and white street pictures and in time I was inspired by other Instagrammers, mostly minimal photographers. Later I started to combine street photography with minimalism, and I started looking for buildings with colourful façades and patterned walls.
I have to say that I never thought of my work as architectural photography. Some façades have repetitive windows and can be considered architectural, but while composing those I was focused on geometry rather than the architectural value of the buildings. The coloured or patterned walls I find are like canvases for me, and connecting these colours, shapes and architectural elements with people, the frame I crop becomes another world which is completely abstracted from the reality.
Finding these locations and thinking about how to use them is a challenge and a mental exercise for me. I also travel to other cities to find their gems. Some of my pictures are taken in other cities such as Izmir, Bursa, Mugla, Kocaeli and Ankara.
What do you enjoy about Istanbul?
My answer to this question is going to be full of cliches, I guess. Istanbul is a fantastic city, especially with its cultural heritage and unique atmosphere. It is exotic and also modern at the same time. It’s kinda chaotic, but that chaos makes it more alive than any other city I have seen so far. It is also awake for 24 hours. It is a vast city and offers so many wonders and has potential to surprise you any day. I’ve been living here for 14 years but this city still finds a new trick to surprise me. Despite its many big problems (such as traffic, high population, uncontrolled growth) I really enjoy living here.
"Think of the Istanbul images you have seen before; most are taken in historical places or around the Bosphorus, and I like them too, but what I want to find and show is completely different. Even long-term residents of Istanbul can't believe that my pictures are of the city they live in."Yener Torun
These are difficult times for Turkey – do you feel like photography can provide an antidote to current events?
Probably, yes. Photography – just like any kind of art – is a kind of hideaway. It helps you to get some fresh air and that fresh air helps you to think more clearly about all these things going on. Since my style requires some colourful structures, I spend most of my free time looking for them. And it is a kind of a challenge for me. I don’t think it’s hard to guess that Istanbul is not full of colourful buildings – as I mentioned before, it is a vast city, and finding those shooting locations is like discovering new worlds.
What I show is completely different to Istanbul in general. Think of the Istanbul images you have seen before; most are taken in historical places or around the Bosphorus, and I like them too, but what I want to find and show is completely different. Even long-term residents of Istanbul can’t believe that my pictures are of the city they live in.
I believe that the vibrant colours I find have positive effect on people who see them. These oases I find in the desert of grey buildings help me think more positively about the future too. And at least I can say this provides a personal antidote.
What is the art and design scene like in Istanbul?
In recent years, Istanbul has witnessed an explosion in its contemporary art scene. I believe it is on its way to becoming an international hub of contemporary art, but of course there still is a long way to go. With a unique location and cultural history, this goal should have been achieved a long time ago, but it is always good to see some progress. New galleries, fairs and exhibitions open every day, and this is achieved without significant government support. Most of the funding comes from private investors, banks, institutions, collectors, etc. Lack of government support provides some freedom in art for sure, but it also shows that the importance of contemporary art is not clearly understood.
In the last ten years there has been an explosion in the construction business too, and this has provided more work for Turkish and foreign designers, but unfortunately this means that the level of quality in the design is not very high. While several necessary and successful projects are being held, the majority of the new mega projects bring mega demographical, economical and ecological problems. We all know that design exists for forseeing and solving these problems, not for creating them.