The Golden Horn: Shifting Axes of Urban Trajectories and Intentionality, and a Footnote on Framing, Verticality, Mountains, Men, and Pumpkins

The Golden Horn from the boat dock at Kasımpaşa. In the background, the Mosque of Sultan Selim Yavuz, 2012. Fuji X100. Click on image to enlarge.

The Golden Horn from the boat dock at Kasımpaşa. In the background, the Mosque of Sultan Selim Yavuz, 2012. Fuji X100. Click on image to enlarge.

The Golden Horn: (Halıç in Turkish), a long, narrow body of water — an estuary actually — that, wedge-like, splits into two the core of the European side of the inner city of Istanbul.  In Byzantine times the Golden Horn served as a safe harbor, shielded from currents and the depredations of raiders.  In times of danger, an iron chain barrier was stretched across its entrance-way, providing security that in the end proved illusory (in the face of not being able to sail into the Golden Horn, 15th-century Ottoman conquerors simply dragged their boats up and down the surrounding hills entered the Golden Horn from its banks).

From Harbor to Relic

In Ottoman times, the Golden Horn was a gateway to docks, wharfs, entrepôts, and workshops that lined its length and to the thriving markets on the slopes above it. By the early-twentieth century, as manufacturing functions moved further afield and maritime traffic increased and ships grew in size, the harbor function of Istanbul was displaced outward, first to nearby Karaköy, then to the late-19th-century Anatolian rail-head at Heyderapaşa. Later, as Istanbul sprawled far to the east and along the shores of Sea of Marmara, the harbor function shifted even afield to new lower-density industrial zones and truck traffic transfer nodes offering proximity to highways and ample space for handling containerized freight.

From Conduit to Barrier

As its utility declined, the Golden Horn changed from a conduit to an inconvenient barrier to be traversed.  By the start of the 20th century, a floating pontoon bridge across the Golden Horn facilitated movement to and from the commercial neighborhoods of Galata and Eminönu on opposite sides of the mouth of the Golden Horn.  By the end of the century, the pontoon bridge was replaced by a fixed structure and two additional bridges had been built, one for local automotive traffic and the as part of a ring-road highway bypassing the inner city. Last year, a fourth bridge, for pedestrians and Istanbul’s growing underground metro system, joined their ranks.

Axes of Infrastructure and Subjectivity of Trajectories

Recently, I’ve been doing some longer-form writing on the subjectivity of our mappings of urban geography and on the effects that radical changes in axes of public transportation have on our trajectories, imaginings, and horizons.  As a user (as well as an observer) of public transportation, the opening of the metro bridge and the axis of underground transportation it enabled, suddenly allowed me to move in only minutes between locations that had once taken an hour or two to reach.  Now, I can visit in a single morning or afternoon I can visit parts of the city that I previously had to schedule for separate days.  Better yet, I can now jump back and forth between disparate worlds.  The new metro line  transcends social disparities and well as space. Stylish Nişantaşı and working class Fatih, physically at opposite ends of the city, geographically and in terms of worldview are now neighbors time-wise.  The Istanbul of traditional religious faith and economic activity is now of a piece with modern, secular, high-tech and high-income Istanbul.  Rapid public transport across Golden Horn creates a breach an aquatic and cultural “Berlin Wall”  I look forward to observing the outcomes.

The Golden Horn from Eminönü, 2012. In the background, the start of construction of the Halıç Metro Bridge. Fuji X100. Click on image to enlarge.

The Golden Horn from Eminönü, 2012. In the background, the start of construction of the Halıç Metro Bridge. Fuji X100. Click on image to enlarge.

Photographic Postscript


These last  days, while commuting back and forth between the Asian and European halves of Istanbul — a city of broad waterways, vistas, and dramatic light reflected on strong currents — I’ve come to long for the telephoto lenses I’ve usually eschewed. For years, “normal” or near-“normal” focal-length lenses — 80mm on 6×6, 135 on 6×9, 35 and 50mm equivalent on APS — have been the longest that I’ve used.  None of these lenses enable me to transcend distance, compress perspective, or pluck far-away subjects from their surroundings.  My “work-around” has been to frame faraway subjects within the contours of serendipitously present foreground objects.  Not the best solution, perhaps, but one that can result in unusual  compositions and juxtapositions as well a consistency in “language” of perspective and field of view.

Earlier this week, an acquaintance of many decades, Doc Searls, posted a nice weblog post featuring images and quotes from my recent entries on Bubkes.Org.  In his commentary, Doc suggested that horizontality is the defining characteristic of human perception and, with this, of photography as well.  I disagree … I’m a partisan of the vertical.

To continue reading (about squares, oblongs, verticals, men, and pumpkins) click here or on the “Read More” button below

From Square to Oblong …

I began photographing using a battered post-war Kodak imitation of a Rolleiflex followed by a Yashicamat, and, eventually, a real Rolleiflex T.  The format of all three was the classic 1:1 ratio, 6x6cm square. To this day, the square remains my preferred way of framing the world around me (see the Rolleiflex stream of entries on this site) — in no small part because the square format frees me of having to choose between horizontal and vertical compositions!

The purchase of my first Nikon (an F2) introduced me to the horizontal 2:3 format of 35mm film.  Initially this was a wonder.  It was as if the square of the Rollei suddenly grew triptych-like side panels.  Over and again, when viewing rolls of freshly developed 35mm film, I discovered surprising details at the lateral edges of each frame of that had escaped my awareness during the act photographing. As time went by, I learned to use the extra “fat” afforded by the width 35mm frame to position subjects in broader contexts that gave added meaning and counterpoint.

To Vertical …

The purchase, 25 years ago, of Fuji 645SW woke me up to the efficacy of the vertical. The 645SW a simple medium-format wide-angle viewfinder camera that, when held upright in its natural shooting position, took vertical photos on 120 film in same  slightly oblong 4:3 proportion now used in Micro Four-thirds digital sensors.  The vertical format added a soaring effect to my base viewpoint of the 1:1 square.  Shooting vertically removed lateral distractions and added to each image  contexts of above and below. And, by reducing the horizontal angle of view, vertical framing also provided a slight surrogate boost in focal-length.  Not least, using the vertical format when photographing architecture on 35mm cameras equipped with ultra-wide-angle lenses enabled me to position subjects in the top half of each frame and there to avoid the distortions of “key-stoning.” As the years passed, I found myself reflexively framing vertically and only afterwards deciding whether to turn my cameras horizontally.

Mountains and Flat-Lands, Men and Pumpkins…

So, in answer to Doc, the vertical dimension is as essential to our perception as  the horizontal.  Perceptually and existentially, what goes on above and below us is just as important as what goes on to the left, right, and rear of where we stand.  The eyes of our distant ancestors moved upwards and downwards in the face of mountains, hills, and valleys just as they moved left to right across flat-lands. In fact, the verticality of mountain terrains, and of the water courses and forests on their slopes, and fields below might have had a far stronger effect on our humanness.  I’ll clinch my case by applying my last-resort trick of attempting to clobber my interlocutors with Eastern European folk-sayings.  A rough translation of an old Bulgarian saying, thus: “Mountains give birth to men;  low-lands give birth to  … pumpkins!”

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