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Balloon shooting gallery on Bosphorus shore (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
(Pic: Stephen Dowling)

I first visited Istanbul in the autumn of 2006.

My friends in the band Lambchop were closing a European tour with a couple of nights in one of Istanbul’s best rock clubs. It was a city I was always to visit, and this was the perfect excuse. I packed the Nikons I usually take to shoot bands with, as much Fuji Neopan (RIP) as I could afford, and spent the best part of a week exploring one of the world’s most incredible cities.

The Istanbul bug had bitten. In the next decade, I went back six or seven times. Part of the allure was Istanbul’s almost unique character as a place to photograph.

Part of that is the incredible historical richness; like Athens and Rome, Istanbul’s past pops up on almost street corner. Imperious mosques dominate the skyline of the old city. Vestiges of crumbling walls remain, demarcating borders long erased by the city’s inexorable spread.

But a city of 16 million people can never be just about the past. Istanbul sometimes feels like a whole world crammed into the narrow straits of the Bosphorus.

The shoreline at Kennedy Caddesi is on the European side of the city, skirting around Sultanahmet where the touristic Topkapi Palace and Blue Mosque reside and retracing the path of the old city’s sea walls. It’s a rocky shoreline where fishermen and cats and young couples congregate, raked by the bracing breezes coming off the Bosphorus. Here and there you find pop-up shooting galleries, loads of balloons set up by vendors toting air rifles. They’re an incongruous sight – like a memorial to a long-gone children’s party.

I shot this in April 2023, my first visit back to Istanbul for nearly eight years. I shot it on a Canon Sure Shot Max, a camera which so far seems to have eluded the cult compact crowd and remains pleasingly affordable. It’s a light early 1990s autofocus camera with a fixed 35mm lens – the perfect kind of camera to have slung around your neck when you’re wandering the streets of Istanbul, it turns out.

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Stephen Dowling
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