Ilker Karaman’s Street Photography Uses Depth in a Refreshing Way

All images by Ilker Karaman. Used with permission.

“…a street photographer should have a creative, different set of eyes from others,” says Ilker Karaman. He continues, “They should use these eyes to show people the images that they cannot see in their daily lives.” Based in Ankara, Turkey, Ilker is making great waves in street photography. His exceptionally well layered, colorful street frames are deserving of your admiration. This is further evident through his inclusion in the finals of the San Fran Street Foto festival, where for the second time he will be included in their annual exhibition. He’s a deep thinker and persistent observer of life – two of the best ingredients for being a street photographer. Ilker thrives off the challenge and he loves to create. In his words, “I am constantly in search of photos that are difficult to take.”

Phoblographer: Speak to us about your relationship with street photography…

IK: A person of the modern world spends much of her/his time on the streets. On the way to work in the morning, returning from work in the evening, on holidays at the beaches, in the cafes, parks. Our eyes are constantly watching the public space and witnessing the lives of other people from a distant place. The eyes of today’s people are familiar with the images on these public spaces. The desire for creativity and innovation is the driving force of street photography. For me, from an ordinary space, at a special moment, to create an unprecedented original photo. This is the search for street photography. [These] innovative and surprise-based sides of street photography have impressed me a lot. I like seeing that street photography pushes the limits of my visual creativity. Moreover, I am trying to make all of my production by using the opportunities offered by the environment in a spontaneous moment. I’m trying to shoot photos that are difficult to take again. I realized that I could take these difficult photos in street photography.

Phoblographer: Tell us about your project “In Pursuit of Myself.” What’s the objective?

IK: Examining thyself to know who you are is one of the oldest and [most] endless activities of humankind. My character [and] my knowledge are shaped by the environment where I live. My activities on photography include some codes from my understanding of life. I’m trying to discover myself in my photos. In this series, I tried to make myself visible in the frames so as to emphasize my search about understanding who I am. Our visual perception is not accustomed to see a photographer in photographs. I realized that if the photographer places himself to the photo in a smart way like creating a visual puzzle, this will lead the question of “how?” in the mind of viewers. With this question, the photograph becomes interesting, impressive and eye-catching.

“The photographs reflect the character, lifestyle and understandings of a photographer.” 

Phoblographer: Can you tell us how much of your time is spent shooting on the streets? What does a typical day’s shooting look like for you?

IK: [On] the weekends, I have free time to spare on photography, generally one day in two weeks. In my typical shooting day, before shooting, I listen to music, read some articles about the daily life of people in Turkey – these motivate me for shooting. I prefer a sunny day for shooting, the sunlight is essential in most of my photography. Usually, I am shooting after three in the afternoon until the sunset. I also love using the warm, colorful light of the golden hour.

Phoblographer: In your own words, how would you describe your style of street photography and why does this work for you?

IK: My photography is founded on geometry and colors. I am searching for codes of geometry in our visual beauty perception. The lines, circles, angles… all these elements assist in making a good photograph for me. The style of photography is like handwriting. The photographs reflect the character, lifestyle, and understandings of a photographer. In the beginning, my compositions had one or two elements and they were a bit more minimalistic than they are in today. Nowadays, I try to use more elements and layers in my compositions.

Phoblographer: You make most of your work in Turkey. For anyone yet to visit, why is Turkey a great location for street photography?

IK: Turkey is like a bridge between the western and the eastern civilizations. Therefore, there are lots of different cultures and traditions that live in the streets of Turkey. Istanbul has been the capital city of the three biggest old empires of the world; Rome, Byzantine, and Ottomans. There are roots of ancient civilizations like Hittites, Lydians, Lykians, Mesopotamians, Cappadocians, Urartians in the Anatolia. Therefore, you can feel both history and present-day when walking on the streets of Turkey.

“The successful results always motivate me for greater achievements.”

There are good crowded and chaotic places for layered street photography in Istanbul, especially in districts of Eminonu, Karakoy and Fatih. The daily life in Taksim, Besiktas, Bebek, Kadikoy, Bostancı can also offer good sources for street photography. There are low-rise colorful houses for high contrast street photography in the Kale district of Ankara. Additionally, the cities on the eastern side of Turkey; Urfa, Mardin, Diyarbakır also have good traditional, historic houses and streets to take memorable photographs.

Phoblographer: You’ve recently been a finalist in the San Fran Street Foto festival. Considering all those hours walking, creating, failing, succeeding, how does it feel to have your work recognized?

IK: This is the second time I am in the final list of StreetFoto San Francisco. It is a great pleasure to see my work recognized and presented on the walls of galleries. The successful results always motivate me for greater achievements.

Phoblographer: What do you think are the most important attributes to have in order to be a good street photographer?

IK: A street photographer should be hard-working, patient and creative. The street photographer is able to see the world differently than others do and should love to force the limits of photography.

Phoblographer: Which other photographers inspire you?

IK: The photography works and philosophy of photographer Gueorgui Pinkhassov always inspire me a lot. His use of color and light, his perspective are very impressive to me. During my university education, I had the chance to read the Istanbul book of Alex Webb. That was very good. As a person who grew up in Turkey, I totally feel the streets of my childhood when I was watching the Istanbul works of Alex Webb. The other names who inspire me are Carolyn Drake, Richard Kalvar, Harry Gruyaert, Saul Leiter.

Phoblographer: Do you have any other genres of photography that you turn to if you hit a creative rut with street?

IK: I want to make a documentary photography project about life in the lands [in] which I grew up. The highlands of the Northern Anatolia have a beautiful atmosphere to work with. There are a lot of scenes in my mind from my childhood. I try to reflect them by taking photos in today. It may be difficult to find past in the present because as any place in the world, the place I grew up is changing very rapidly from time to time. But I want to try at least.

Phoblographer: Finally, so we can learn a little more about the man behind the camera, finish this sentence. “When I’m not shooting street photography…”

IK: …work for my real profession as an engineer. I spend some time to discover the world by reading and watching.”

You can enjoy more of Ilker’s work by visiting his Instagram.