The “Cities on the Edge” series was commissioned by Liverpool Culture Company on the theme of people and place in Liverpool. A group of photographers based in European port cities including Istanbul, Marseilles and Bremen were tasked to produce a set of images that explored connections between these environments. The exhibition was curated by the British photographer John Davies, whose contribution to the exhibit and prior work I will be exploring in a subsequent post. This post will focus on the work of Istanbul based photographer, Ali Taptik, whose contribution to the exhibit caught my attention immediately.
Taptik’s commissioned work for the exhibit is a series of striking portraits taken in the host city Liverpool and in Taptik’s home city Istanbul. My initial impression of the set is how the photographer utilises a wide angle and deep depth of field to capture the surrounding environment of his subjects. From this choice of technique it is palpable Taptik intends to show the viewer the relationship between the subject and their surroundings.
Taptik alternates between showing us glimpses of life in Liverpool and Istanbul, and his photos tell us something of the circumstances in which his subjects live. The photos of Liverpool show us ageing, decrepit terraces while in Istanbul we see a variety of environments with clear signs of decay and poverty. In all the images the subjects occupy the centre of the frame, and other elements within the frame hint at a narrative concerning their relationship with the environment they inhabit. The image from Istanbul above shows us a boy in dirty clothes with a herd of sheep behind him. From this the viewer could ask questions about the circumstances of the boy – is he looking after the sheep? What are they doing in the middle of a built up area?
Likewise with the above image from Liverpool, Taptik positions his subject in the centre of the frame and other elements (the dog, the road, the physical appearance of the subject) help to create a visual narrative. Also apparent with this image and with others in the set is Taptik’s post processing. There is a latent vignette placed in the corners of the frame which helps to divert the viewer’s attention to the subject. This suggests that while Taptik wishes to show the surrounding environments his subjects inhabit, he does not wish us to be distracted by these surroundings. It is the relationship between the subject and their environments Taptik intends for us to focus on.
I selected the image above as it stands out somewhat in terms of composition and environment. The subject is off centre and positioned in front of a collection of chairs dumped on the street. Again an interesting narrative is suggested by the elements Taptik chose to incorporate in the frame – the viewer again asks questions about the subject’s relationship with the surroundings.
Taptik’s series is a powerful set of photos of people and their surroundings in Istanbul and Liverpool. I think the photographer is successful in showing a connection between the environments he captures in the two cities. In both locations we see urban decay and industrial decline evident in the environments of his subjects. There is a suggestion that the subjects don’t quite fit their environment, particular the shot of the boy with the sheep, and also the girl on the street full of decrepit and boarded up houses. This is the connection perhaps – that in both cities, Liverpool and Istanbul, people exist who struggle to fit in and have become somewhat marginalised by the decline and deprivation of the environments they inhabit.
One point to takeaway from this set is how Taptik employs a consistent visual style – his subjects appear dead centre in the frame (for the most part), the depth of field shows all the detail surrounding the subjects, and the colour and aspect ratio also help to nurture this sense of uniformity. Taptik also does not allow the the background to dominate his subjects; his subjects are positioned against background colours that contrast to the colour of their clothes. He reveals small details that do not overshadow the subject, but the details are significant enough to hint at the nature of the subject’s relationship with their surroundings. It is maintaining this balance along with a uniform visual style that has allowed Taptik to create a strong set of environmental portraits.
See the full set on Taptik’s website: