Monday, October 8, 2012

Distressed Beauty

Beysehir, Turkey
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
- Confucius

We have all been touched by that which we consider to be beautiful. Many great thinkers have pondered the definition of beauty. We talk about "traditional" notions of beauty. And we acknowledge that there are distinct cultural notions of beauty. We can even accept that beauty is a concept that need not be bound by the experience of our five senses:

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched
- they must be felt with the heart.
- Helen Keller

I recently returned from a three week tour of Turkey, a country of startlingly diverse physical terrain, made even more fascinating when considered through the lens of its complex geo-political history and singular position as the meeting ground of east and west. The result? A visually rich landscape and cultural heritage which translates into a photographer's dream destination.

So it's a bit ironic that the first photographs I have chosen to showcase this dream destination have to do with buildings in various states of decay....

Ayvalik, Turkey
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don't consider myself an expert on aesthetics by any means. But as an architect, I do spend a great deal of time analyzing my work. When it comes to photography, I think hard about what I am trying communicate with the images I've captured through my lens and carefully consider what might distinguish my images from the countless others that flood our physical and virtual worlds.

Over the years I've realized that beauty, defined as something visually pure and perfectly balanced, is overrated. It just doesn't have enough nuance to be emotionally satisfying. It is shallow and insipid, rather than rich and meaningful. And it almost never tells a story...

Ayvalik, Turkey
Beauty? To me it is a word without sense because I do not know where its meaning comes from
nor where it leads to.
- Pablo Picasso

While I can appreciate perfection (and even admit to being a perfectionist...), my view of beauty - which now permeates my work and outlook on life - is most closely aligned with the Japanese concept of "wabi-sabi". Wabi-sabi is uniquely Japanese, and stems from an interpretation of Zen Buddhism that has evolved over centuries. It encompasses an experiential component too, so it is as much about process as it is product.

In his book "Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers," Leonard Koren writes: “Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.  It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.”

Ayvalik, Turkey
And in the essay "What is Wabi-Sabi?" architect Todao Ando, writes:

"Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered - and it reveres authenticity above all.... It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet - that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent."

Beysehir, Turkey
We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.
- Kahlil Gibran

I admit that there was no grand discourse about wabi-sabi in my mind when I was photographing these structures. I was subconsciously drawn to the texture and weathering of the materials (revealed in layered relief) that spoke lyrically of the passage of time...and abandonment. I was intrigued. As I learned more about the history of Ayvalik and Beysehir, the two towns where these photographs were taken, their stories came into clearer focus.

Ayvalik, located on the northwestern Aegean coast of Turkey, has a rich architectural heritage and is known for its olive oil. The city enjoyed some autonomy within the Ottoman Empire (even though the city residents were predominately of Greek origin) and became an important cultural center in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1919, the city was controlled by the Greek Army, as Turkey was on the losing side of WWI. But in 1922, the forces of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) retook the city. The Greco-Turkish war had already led many of the city's residents to flee, and after the Turkish War of Independence an agreement called the "Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations" resulted in the mandatory expulsions of Moslems living in Greece and Christian Greeks living in Turkey...

Ayvalik, Turkey
In contrast, the city of Beysehir is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Beysehir, the largest freshwater lake in Turkey. The area is fertile and farming predominates in the villages surrounding the lake. The lovely Turkish family we stayed with in a village outside Beysehir told us that sadly, the lake today has very little fish. Where once there were hundreds of fishermen and thousands employed at fish processing plants around the village, now there are none. Overfishing has destroyed the thriving industry, forcing families to leave and seek work elsewhere. On the positive side, an important lesson has been learned and in a few years, the fish will slowly come back.

In every image there is a story just waiting to be uncovered...or written...

On the Bosphorus
Istanbul, Turkey - 2012
photo by Roger Winter

All of the images posted here are also available for purchase as 8x10 and 5x7 fine art prints and A2 size greeting cards (all printed on archival water color paper) at Be sure to send me a message if there is something you'd like that you don't see listed, or if you'd like a custom size or item, as I truly enjoy creating one of a kind items that hold special meaning. Thanks!!

No comments:

Post a Comment