Claire Atkinson: Engulfed by Istanbul

We had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Atkinson, a budding, young British photographer, here on the Leica blog last December. Born and raised in a small village in Greater Manchester, Claire has always been drawn to the diversity of city life, which was a stark contrast to the monotony of life in her home environment. As a distant relative to the great painter, J.M.W. Turner, Claire says she “would definitely prefer to paint or write music, but cannot sit still long enough to make a decent attempt at either.” So instead she makes beautiful pictures with her Leica M6, as a hardcore devotee to film photography. Recently, Claire took her photography to the streets of Istanbul. We had a chance to chat with Claire about her trip, how she’s developed since we last spoke and her current and future projects.

Q: What inspired your Istanbul project?

A: For a while, every exhibition I went to or anything I read featured Istanbul in some way. I knew little about it, but it kept coming back to me. One day, on a whim, I suggested to my friend that we go check it out.  A couple of weeks later we booked the tickets and went.

Q: How long were you there? And did you find it different than shooting in the UK at all?

A: I was only there for four nights. It was very easy to make pictures there; the people were hospitable and completely laid back about cameras. It was a very comfortable experience and one that completely engulfed me. Istanbul was different from anywhere I have been before because of its unique atmosphere. It took over every one of my senses.

Q: What were you hoping to achieve when you set out on this project?

A: I didn’t have a bloated concept to base my photographs on, nor was I too interested in portraying the East/West borders; I think this has been done a lot. I just wanted to go somewhere new with my camera and see if I could make any sense of the place in the time I was given.

Q: Do you feel that you’ve grown as a photographer in any way since we last connected with you in December 2010?

A: I hope so. I approach things with more vigor. I am trying to let go more and go with my instincts.

Q: You mention on the project’s website that “chain stores are far and few, leaving you to explore the dying art of the human touch in all of its unique, mismatching glory”. Can you elaborate on this? It sounds like an interesting notion that may have cultural or societal implications, especially with your juxtaposition of chain stores in the description.

A: You see far fewer chain stores in Istanbul than in the rest of Europe and I enjoyed that. Each street is unique. Where I come from, everything is starting to look the same thanks to these companies opening branches on every single street. Also in Istanbul, colour is naturally embedded into the urban landscape, whereas further West, colour is usually contrived and used only to try and sell you something. This is something I can’t stand. I love to read literature about the places I go to and I found a great quote by Pierre Loti that sums up how rewarded I felt by exploring Istanbul, “Many a poor fellow could feed his fancy for a year on the impressions I glean in the course of one day’s rambles”.

Q: What equipment did you use for this project?

A: My old M6 with a 40mm lens.

Q: In our last gallery we featured in December, there seemed to be an emerging theme of windows. In the selection you sent, there were a couple of pictures where the subject shifted to the reflections. Is there something that draws you to these as subject matter?

A: No, not consciously. While walking down the street we have windows on either side of us. When we’re on a bus or stuck in a room we’re looking out at everything through glass. If you have the compulsion to take photos then you’re bound to catch these things fairly often. Though maybe I look for it a little more now. I love the abstract.

Q: In the selection, there are also no black and white photos. Is that partially due to the color you’ve found in Istanbul or something else?

A: I’ve not shot much black and white in almost two years now. It doesn’t do anything for me anymore, as a viewer or an image maker.

Q: There were also a couple of photos with shadows: one where the shadows became the subject (the people on the stairs) and one where they seemed to hide the subjects upper body. What were you trying to achieve with these two particular shots?

A: I can’t say I was trying to achieve anything particular. The light situation in Turkey is very different to that in England, especially in May. So I was able to make completely different kinds of images to the ones I would make at home.

Q: The arse one is too funny? Is there any back story to this (no pun intended of course).

A: I was walking around the Besiktas area of Istanbul with my friend James when we came across this “Arse” sign. He quickly started photographing it with the glee of a 14-year-old Green Day fan. I think I rolled my eyes and told him he was lame or something. But after a while I decided to go back and try to take a picture myself with the inclusion of an actual arse. I got some pretty weird looks from the locals that day. It’s not my style, but I knew other people would like it.

Q: What’s next? Are you working on any other projects or exhibits at the moment?

A: I hope to go back to Istanbul early next year. I’m working on a project in Manchester now called “Grand Up North” and I’m in the process of self-publishing my first book of photos called “Impressions”.

Thanks Claire!

-Leica Internet Team

For more from Claire Atkinson please visit her website: and check out her blog:

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