Scenes from Istanbul: What it’s like to photograph Turkey’s protests


(Emine Gozde Sevim)

Emine Gozde Sevim, a Turkish freelance photographer who's worked in Afghanistan and covered the Egyptian revolution, didn't know her next conflict coverage would be in her hometown when she returned to Istanbul in March. But when the protests began last week in Taksim Gezi Park, she took her camera and began documenting the demonstrations and police response. She's kindly shared some of her photos, which are posted here.

We discussed the experience of covering the protests, which have since spread beyond Istanbul, in a Facebook chat. A partial, edited transcript of our conversation is below, with her photos interspersed.

Max: What's it feel like in the city? Are people talking a lot about what's happening in Taksim?

Emine Gozde Sevim: First of all, what is happening is not just in Taksim. It's across Istanbul and many, many other cities across the country, small and big. And, yes, everyone is talking about it. Protests at this scale are a very original situation for people, especially for the younger generation.


(Emine Gozde Sevim)

What's the mood like in the city? Tense? Excited?

E.G.S.: Tense and excited. But it's dynamic. In the beginning, before the heavy clashes and protests spread, there was pure excitement to see people come together. Now it's changed a little bit. Everyone knows someone who got hurt. Everyone who's there has suffered from the tear gas.


(Emine Gozde Sevim)

Does it feel like things are spinning out of control?

E.G.S.: Not yet, but people fear it could. And the police brutality is shocking.


(Emine Gozde Sevim)

People were surprised at the severity of the crackdown?

E.G.S.: The country is supposed to be democratic, so there is an expectation. For instance, people assumed the police wouldn't shoot tear gas in a random street where there are no protesters nearby. But in the past few days, we have seen that more and more.

From your photos it looks like you're right in the middle of the protests. Do you feel that you're in danger? I know a Reuters photographer was injured pretty seriously last week.

E.G.S.: Absolutely. I've been working alongside two other photographers, and we had tear gas thrown at us despite shaking our cameras and shouting "Don't shoot." We were walking up a street away from the protesters and toward police. One of them threw a tear gas canister directly at our feet. I don't think they were targeting us as journalists; they just didn't care. If you're at the protests, they don't differentiate.


(Emine Gozde Sevim)

When you're photographing the protests, what story are you trying to tell? What do you want people to take away from your photos?

E.G.S.: I've been in Egypt since late 2011. Before then, Palestine; before then, Afghanistan. Here, I'm photographing for evidence first and foremost.


(Emine Gozde Sevim)

Evidence of what?

E.G.S.: Evidence of the history unfolding in Turkey right now, evidence of the police force, the intensity as a whole. I see it as part of a larger story about Turkey. Never ever did we think here that these sorts of protests could happen here, that this was possible. To see people from all parts of life come out and unite feels like it could represent a new chapter in Turkey.


(Emine Gozde Sevim)

Is the makeup of the protests changing at all? I know in Egypt it started as families, and, as things got more violent, the protests were dominated more by young men.

E.G.S.: Here, if there's been any change, it's in the variety and numbers. More and more people are coming out. Not just youth or liberals but men and women, young and old. In the beginning it was mostly young people.

When are you planning on going back out again?

E.G.S.: I went out early this morning to Gezi park and it was calm, just a sit-in. And currently it's calm in Istanbul, as far as we hear. But for now, it depends on how things develop.

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Max Fisher · June 3, 2013