Double Take: Istanbul’s Streets Then and Now

July 15, 2013

Santiago Mostyn’s film pairs municipal security footage of Istanbul in May 2012 and May 2013 to reveal the same sites, in the same city, as if in two parallel universes.

We have our methods, each of us, of marking the space between past and present, most often through images. The above video, May Day 2012 / May Day 2013, expands the scale of this space from the personal to the political, revealing parallel portraits of a city made uncanny with the recognition of one location in the other.

To make this work, I extracted video feeds from the same municipal security cameras in Istanbul, first in May 2012 and again in May 2013. The left feed shows footage from a project that hinges on the cultural act of picturing, and being pictured in, a completely foreign place. I play the role of a tourist photographer, and can be spotted taking photographs on the street and at various lookouts Istanbul residents described to me as their most cherished places in the city.

The right feed shows footage of the same locations a year later, during the first hours of conflict following a police crackdown on a protest in Gezi Park, and just prior to the video feeds being shut down by the authorities to minimize public witness. These locations now appear unusually empty, or have erupted with clouds of tear gas and throngs of protesters.

There is a dissonance, then, between my idiosyncratic efforts to access an alternative perspective of place, and the overwhelming sensation of history made visible via the streaming of these state-owned images. Call it Istanbul’s double frequency: the tension of a city that has grown rapidly larger and younger, and that no longer fits the old clichés of East and West, or secular and religious.