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February 22, 2007

Images of a vanishing world: Climates: Turkey Cinemascope - Photographs by Nuri Bilge Ceylan at the National Theatre

Posted by David Wootton

Climates: Turkey Cinemascope
Photographs by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
National Theatre, London
Lyttelton Foyer
22nd January - 3rd March 2007

David Wootton - Anniversary Professor of History, University of York - is captivated by images of a vanishing world.

In between having a less-than-perfect time watching Coram Boy,, I chanced across an exhibition of panoramic photographs of Turkey by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who is apparently a well-known film director. My they are wonderful! They were taken as part of his search for locations, and are all in widescreen format (although the exact ratios of height to width seem to vary, and it would be good to know if they are cropped, and indeed what sort of camera they were taken with). Many of them show snow scenes. What makes them so wonderful?

First, and most obviously they seem technical marvels: the resolution is astonishing; they are printed on cloth; they are in fact limited edition prints (twenty to an edition - no prices, but I wanted to take some home with me).

Second, all, or almost all, create a sense of some slight dislocation of scale. There is an enormous hill, cradled in a bowl of lakes and hills, and the shapes are so nurturing one thinks of human scales. There is a glowing palace seen from above that one thinks is a miniature model, too small to be real. There is a curve in a road, seen from above - the curve seems too sharp to be quite possible.

Third, the people, when there are people, are often centre stage, looking at the camera or at us; but certainly not speaking. They have an extraordinary dignity, but the nature of our encounter with them is profoundly puzzling - we have distracted them from their tasks, but they neither engage with us, nor we with them.

Fourth, one can see that Ceylan must make beautiful films, and must be a remarkable director of actors (for these photographs are surely posed). And there seems, even in these almost random images, to be a story - a story of dignity in adversity, of accidental beauty, of an environment which is hostile (many of them are snow scenes; in one there are floods) but not overwhelmingly destructive. They record a complicated compromise between human beings and nature, in which each has made concessions to the other. And this is of course to say that these photographs record a vanishing world - a world we have lost, for the most part, in the First World. It is as if they recorded life in the south of England a hundred years ago after the industrial revolution (there are roads and railways), but long before central heating, or waterproof clothing. It is not hopelessly sentimental, I think, to see that this was in many respects a better world, if a harsher one. But whether this is true or not, I found these photographs beautiful, moving, eloquent, and in some sense profound. If you are anywhere nearby before 3rd March, make a detour to see them.

David Wootton is Anniversary Professor of History, University of York. He is the author of Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates.

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Some of the photographs reviewed here can be seen at:

Posted by: David Wootton at March 6, 2007 07:55 PM

And they are all now to be seen, with other reviews, at:
They still take the breath away!

Posted by: David Wootton at March 30, 2007 03:32 PM
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