Are you a writer visiting Istanbul for the first time, or the eleventy-millionth? Do you like giving your readers a sense of place that you manufactured after 31 hours on the ground? Do you want to nail the mysteries of a 7000 year old city in a country with 75 million people in 500 words or less? Then this guide is indispensable. Read carefully and chose your cliche wisely. Whatever you do, do not look at this link.
Mini Skirts and Minarets: Istanbul has both! What an amazing contrast! Very little more needs to be said. If you manage to get this alliterative classic in your lede or headline, you are champion. Move to the front of the line.
Bridge Between East and West: Did you know Istanbul straddles two continents, and there are some bridges? It should be news to everyone who has never looked at a map. This is a powerful metaphor and it cannot be overused. Every article should reinforce it because it absolves you of any further responsibility for explaining why it is important or how it is playing out today, giving you more time for you to try.....
Apple Tea: Did you sip a mixture of delicious hot chemicals while admiring Turkish carpets lovingly handcrafted in Pakistani factories? Tell us more about this Turkish classic that can only be found in Sultanahmet.
Turkey Is Looking East. There may be some people who have missed this critical message, which, by decree of the Ministry of Drop-In Journalism, must appear in every article written since the Gaza Flotilla Incident.
X Incident Will Affect Turkey's EU Accession Hopes in Y Way: Show your sophisticated knowledge of Euroaffairs by viewing every policy or political decision made by Turkey through the prism of its hopes of joining the EU. Of course Turkey's highest aspiration, with an economy that was second only to China's in first quarter expansion (be sure to click through to read some awesomeness in the headline and lede!), should be to help prop up third world economies and political systems like Greece's, Bulgaria's and Romania's.
In your defense, you say, "Carpetblogger! But aren't bridges between continents and minarets and girls in headscarves walking arm in arm with other girls in miniskirts powerful visual images you can see every day in Istanbul that tell us a lot about The Way We Live Now? These are important and should appear on my blog, which is read by tens of people! Why do you have to be so cynical about everything? And anyway, this is what editors want because they are lazy and lack imagination!"
We are, as a matter of policy, favorably disposed to giving those in a position to allocate funds whatever they want, when they want it, no matter how lazy or unimaginative. And, our resistance to common visuals associated with Istanbul may suggest that we have become inured to lovely images that can be compelling to people who don't look at them every single day. We will keep an open mind about this suggestion. The accusation of cynicism stands undisputed.
However, this topic generated some debate at the recent Foundry Photojournalism Workshop we attended. A presentation of a series entitled "Liberal and Conservative in Istanbul," commissioned by a German news magazine and shot by a well-known photojournalist, evoked negative reactions from some who live here for its cliched images and for completely missing the story. Were we the only ones who noticed? Did those who live elsewhere find it more appealing? Was the photographer simply presenting the audience with images that confirmed its preconceptions (it was for the Germans, after all, who have their own ways of thinking about Turkey), at the expense of "reality?" These are all important questions. We don't know the answer!
Send us your favorite examples of Istanbul cliches in articles and photos. If they weren't written or shot by a friend, we'll post them here for critique. Actually, especially if they were written or shot by a friend, we'll post them here for critique.
And! There are lots of photographers and writers covering Turkey whose work we respect because they get past the cliches. We are happy to share those links. But, we can probably get another post out of it and don't give that sort of publicity away for free so it will have to wait.