Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Istanbul Daydreams - Reflections on a Peter Turnley Workshop

Sometimes beautiful moments just appear and surprise you....sometimes you have to search for them......and persist.

Daydreams & Rhythm

I have just returned from ten days and nights in Istanbul, a week of which was spent in a 'Streets of Istanbul' workshop with Peter Turnley and a small but diverse group of fellow photography enthusiasts. This was my first visit to Istanbul and its rhythm, color and openness took me completely by surprise as did the workshop itself which I eventually learned is a lesson in humanity and creativity, not on how to take photographs. Peter should need no introduction to photography enthuisiasts and his powerful, emotive photojournalistic work is well known. What surprised me a little after having looked at this work was his creative, artistic side and out and out sense of humanity. I found his teaching to be subtle (for me) and nicely paced to create an overall learning experience that not only greatly enhanced my competence as a photographer but instilled a much deeper sense of the moments of beauty, surprise and meaning that are always all around us, waiting to appear or be sought out.

Having arrived in Istanbul with some wildly misplaced and somewhat negative perceptions as to its nature, much to my surprise, I couldn't have been more wrong. What I discovered was a vividly colorful, warm and unendingly fascinating city that welcomed me with open arms. I immediately fell into time with its pace and pulse, stepping easily into its rhythm and flow and, after a day of orientation, I found myself wandering aimlessly, walking the streets, resting in the mosques, and hopping on and off the many ferries that traverse the mighty Bosphorus. This might sound absurd but somehow I felt that I slipped into a dreamy state and found that my walking pace and movement slowed, I saw things more easily than normal and felt more attuned to the life of this wonderful city. I discovered that every aspect of the city seemed to be slower paced and more aligned to my own natural rhythm which I guess I have lost somewhat in recent times in the hubbub of Singapore, travel and the pressures of a working lifestyle. This pace extended through everything that I did from walking its streets and alleys, through the marvelously relaxed cafe and dinning experience until eventually finding its way calmingly into my photography. The idea of photographic rythm is an interesting concept and one of the key learnings that I received from Peter in the workshop is the requirement to create a sense of pacing and timing in your work to achieve a flow and avoid repetition and redundancy. This is something that I believe I have completely missed previously as a photographer and I like to think that with Peter's guidance, the work I created here is much closer to the reflection of how I see the world and I sincerely hope that at least a little of the dreamy mood I felt in Istanbul comes through in the pictures that I made.

Be a Photographer

The second important message that I had from Peter was to take on the mantle and mindset of permitting yourself to 'be a photographer'. This might be a little tricky to understand externally without having experienced the workshop and spent time with Peter, but it really hit home for me. If you want to capture and translate something of the world as you see it, and to crystalize your photographic ideas, its essential to adopt the attitude that you are a photographer, not a part time shooter or hobbyist (despite the fact that you are not making a living from it) This lesson is better understood by watching Peter waltzing into a shooting situation, charming and creating rapport, and more often than not, leaving with a worthwhile shot and some new friends. This is a challenge for most people and the ability to approach and gain the trust of an interesting subject is a skill that should not be underestimated and one that ultimately makes the difference between interesting snapshots and meaningful work. Nowhere did I see that better demonstrated than when I had the good fortune to watch him create the gorgeous reflection shot of the lady on the ferry that you can see on his Facebook page. I watched as Peter engaged with this shy woman and, without giving directions, shot and waited and shot and waited until he made the photograph he envisaged. Peter is clearly a master at this and although I can only aspire to his level of communication with people, I definitely learned the lesson and am now practicing moving confidently into situations with the authority of belonging there, because I am a photographer.


I think the third enduring lesson that I learned from Peter was the most critical and important one for me personally. What Peter taught and showed me was that its not really about understanding composition or the technical side of photography, more importantly its about realizing that you are working with humanity. Through this I came to see that the most beautiful and interesting scenes are best appreciated and the critical moments captured when you become aware that its a human situation that you are in. Then, by both having insights into that situation, and the confidence and ability to enter it as a photographer in a constructive, patient manner, some unique moment will eventually emerge for you to capture using your photographic skills. I do firmly believe that the sequence or process works better once the photographer realizes this rather than the more conventional reversal where the technical skills are learned first before the realization that neither they nor any amount of megapixels or razor sharp, fast lenses will give you the images you desire. 


One of the most delightful moments of the workshop came when Peter took us to the cafe and studios of the world famous photographer Ara Guler . Ara was once voted one of the worlds seven most influential photographers and it was a fantastic experience to meet, talk to and be photographed with the great man. By good luck one of our group Anja, had already bought a copy of his book and he took great pleasure in signing it for her while engaging in some good humored banter. I was very dissapointed not to have had a similar opportunity and all to quickly the moment passed and was gone.

Undaunted, I returned to the cafe at every opportunity while wandering the city and had lunch and dinner there with one or more of the group on numerous occasions. Unfortunately there was no sign of Ara. 

I guess the final lesson from Peter was that of being persistant and sticking with it until something happens. I would watch as he would often take some shots, appear to turn away apparently finished only to return once the situation relaxed to get the moments that presented themselves once his subjects thought the photo was taken and they could return to normal.

On my final day in Istanbul, once Peter and all of the group students had left, I made one final trip to the cafe climbing the  steep slope up from the Galata bridge and wandering along the thouroghfare shooting the buskers and cafe scenes. On arrival at the cafe and much to my delight, there was Ara sitting joking with his friends and what looked like some of his family. Without hesitation I sprinted to the nearest bookshop and bought a copy of his lovely portraits of the shapers of the 20th century and returned to spend a wonderful twenty minutes or so chatting to him as he graciously struggled with my Scottish accent and not only signed, but decorated the book with some little sketches. My lasting memory of this wonderful moment for me was when he paused after signing and decorating the title page and, disturbed by some lack of balance in the composition, flicked a little tick shaped bird onto the blank page opposite quickly bringing it into equilibrium.

Additional Information

The work created by the workshop group can be viewed shortly on Peter's Gallery page and it will serve to give some insight into the substance of the workshop output. I should mention at this point that this was the most wonderful and interesting group of people that I have ever come across and it was humbling to hear their life stories and to see them develop their photographic ambitions with Peter. Much of the enjoyment and learning in the workshop takes place at the review and edit sessions and I am sure we all benefited greatly from looking at and understanding the diversity of each others work. Peter runs the workshops in many of the Worlds most fascinating cities and the full list can be seen here.

Is a Peter Turnley workshop for you? Well, if you have a passion for people and a desire to learn how you can interpret your world better both photographically and in your relationship to it, then I can't think of a better way to spend a week:)



  1. Really enjoyed your series on Istanbul -- the writing and the photos are both vivid and lively!

  2. Hey, thanks. I am really glad you enjoyed the posts, I had such a great time there.


  3. Wow what a great shots so awesome.

  4. Fantastic Colin - really enjoyed both the writing and the photo spread. Nice to see to words work in unison and complement rather than to commentate.

    1. Thanks Brent, I think it was all part of what I learnt from Peter about being selective, pacing and ensuring the photos flow. I tried to apply that to the words as well.



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  6. Great article Colin,

    Do you still shoot with your V1? What would you say are the pro's & con's of each as a traveler's camera?


  7. Hi Paul, yes, still have and shoot with the V1. I think for me the V1 works where you know you are going to need longish zooming and/or, need to stay nice n light.

    I think the OMD and GX1 work great as a pair as you can swap perspective very quickly with the 28mm or 40mm equivalent lenese I had. I only took both because I couldn't get a spare battery for the OMD and I new it wouldn't last a days shooting and this turned out to be a real blessing as it worked nicely for me. Having said that, based on Peter's advice, I shot almost exclusively on the 14 (28) lens and just swapped it across cameras. Apart from the flip out screen and superior burst rate which I used a bit (the Derisher's etc)I generally found that I prefered the GX1's handling and I found the raw files to be very similar and couldn't discern a quality difference.

    Given that I already have a good selection of M43 lenses, if I was asked to choose between the three I would go for the GX1 as I like the grip, feel and handling best and its now very cheap (I paid S$600 for mine used) . I also like using the V1 a lot but the ultimate output is not as easy to work with in my view.

    Hope this helps, and thanks for looking


  8. Fabulous work! Very impressed with your vision and skill in capturing some great moments. Well done and thank you for sharing all your insights!!

  9. Hey, thanks Collin, I am really glad you enjoyed the material.



  10. I came across your wonderful post via TOP. I took a workshop with Peter in Paris. You captured (in words and pictures) so many elements of that special experience, that stay with me still, one year later. Thank you.

  11. i love the quote you mentioned on the top. such a true thing.
    and the pictures are so nice. You really did a great job. thanks for sharing this stuff :)
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