COVID-19 has reshaped urban life and has left many streets empty as people practice social distancing. And while we were thinking how much we’ve all missed the beautiful, poetic and chaotic streets of İstanbul, Kira Gyngazova -a Russian photographer based in İstanbul- came to our rescue with her candid shots. Let’s take a trip down the memory lane with Kira’s photography and have daydreams about the day where we sip our tea while we take the Kadıköy ferry.
Tell us about your journey, as a photographer, so far. How did you get your start in photography? When did you first begin to consider yourself an artist?
I started doing photography passionately three years ago, after I moved to Bangkok. The city impressed me so much with its diversity and the many stories unfolding on every corner. The colours, intensity, and absurd street life… I couldn’t help but express the way I saw it through photography. I started to walk a lot, taking tons of pictures, and smoothly they collected into my “Fragments” project wherein I captured the parts of the environment as they appeared to me; contemporary urban sculptures, embracing beauty out of chaos. This was an ongoing project that I continued while traveling through France and Turkey. Apart from this, I did a lot of street photography and personal projects with friends.
Before photography I tried art related jobs, but never felt properly engaged. Only after starting photography full time I found my place and harmony with the world. I feel my inner belief that I can consider myself as an artist is still blossoming and developing.
Do you think you are a passive observer, active documentarist or do you simply interrupt the right moments in life? How do you describe what you do?
There are always two sides in a communication with the world: the objectivity of reality and our own subjective perception of it. So, every photo is my own worldview where the objective reality is filtered through my mind that has seen, read, and thought so many things before. Every mind is different in that way and when I see a chair, for example, another person will see a completely different chair even though it’s the same object we are standing next to. More specifically, why would I take a photo of a chair that has been left in an empty street? Immediately it evokes the feeling of presence of the absence. The chair that no-one is sitting on, I start to imagine whom it belonged to, how it got where it is; as a part of someone’s life. It also raises the question of consumerism; how many objects we buy and throw in the street when we don’t need them anymore. So it’s not just the chair, it’s all our life in that moment.
That diversity of perception is probably one of the reasons why I do photography. The need to express my point of view on this chair for example :)
How important is storytelling in your photography? How do you ensure your shots communicate a strong narrative?
Recently I read an interview about Gabriel Garcia Marquez where he laughed about how his prose is interpreted in school, where people create explanations out of simple things in his stories like a chicken, for example, accidentally becoming a symbol for the whole universe. I find this to be a demonstration of how stories are created in our minds even when there is no initial message. My love of art greatly stems from this, and the ideas and narrative that I convey with photos end up a completely different story in the spectator’s mind.
I hope to inspire people to be more attentive to simple things and extend the boundaries of what beauty is.
What was your first thought when you first set foot in İstanbul?
I think I just fell in love with it from the first moment. Luckily, my Airbnb host, Ali, appeared to be very careful and thoughtful person and made my stay as simple and comfortable as I could ever imagine. It formed my first impression and kept me in a happy state of mind throughout my whole stay here.
The streets of different cities have their own personalities, sense of style and a unique way of welcoming people. How would you describe İstanbul?
I was impressed how kind this city treated me. The pale colours of the buildings, urban cats in every corner that look healthier than me, people sitting in the lively streets, music that is coming from every corner, the diversity of cultures, old-fashioned ferries followed by hundreds of seagulls, many beautiful views on the whole Istanbul that you don’t expect to see (a reward for climbing the hills!) – that mix makes it very unique and unforgettable.
Do you have a happy place in İstanbul? What is your favorite neighborhood?
I love Cihangir and Moda. Cihangir looks like a little Lisbon for me, very arty. Maybe it sounds banal but I love to spend time sitting in small local coffee shops and watching people passing by. For photography, I prefer to go to farther neighborhoods where life is more real and less polished. Recently I was impressed by Alibeyköy and took a couple of great pictures there.
My favorite places to take photos in Istanbul, for example, are old-style dark cafes packed only with men drinking tea or playing table games. It’s really fascinating, and something that I have never seen in my life. I would call them cinematic scenes.
When you photograph on the street, what has to happen in the frame in order for you to press the shutter?
It is always a different impulse, hard to describe in words. I guess I love the magic of absurdity in our daily life and hope I manage to express it. While walking I am always very attentive to what surrounds me, from the way people act in public places to how different random objects are located in the streets and how they interact with the environment, like fabrics, forgotten glasses, old shoes, things that, earlier, belonged to someone; discarded as useless trash. My favorite places to take photos in Istanbul, for example, are old-style dark cafes packed only with men drinking tea or playing table games. It’s really fascinating, and something that I have never seen in my life. I would call them cinematic scenes. I am a cinephile whose way of seeing was formed by the movies I saw in childhood and teenage times.
How do you hope your work impacts viewers? What do you aim to express through your photography?
I think the first aim is quite egoistic. I wish to convey to people how I see reality, what I think about our daily life, what keeps my attention and who I am, perhaps. Apart from this, I wish my work to bring feelings and new perceptions that could also be a part of peoples’ creative process. Everything that we consume -books, art, cinema-affects our life and mind setting even if we are not aware. I just love this idea of having a permanent conversation with spectators through my works.
It becomes too easy to be sucked into an environment and routine where we don’t truly “see” what surrounds us anymore. I hope to inspire people to be more attentive to simple things and extend the boundaries of what beauty is.
How do you think the coronavirus will impact the photography industry?
It is difficult to say, but what I see is that this is changing the perspective of many creators, and many of us are finding that the act of creating can be done under any circumstance. You don’t have to be in a certain place to be creative. Changes are always for the better. Maybe now it’s hard to see that, but crises give birth to new ideas and free your mind from the comfort zone. Me, personally, it inspired me to make a new project about virtual traveling. I made a series of street photos using Google Street View in many countries I have never been too. This experience has completely invaded me and now I have more inspiration to go to places that I would probably never go.