Ruediger Glatz: Protesters in Istanbul

Ruediger Glatz, born and currently residing in Heidelberg, Germany, is a portrait and documentary photographer, and sees photography as a tool of expression that goes beyond his commercial work. His photographs have been featured in exhibitions and solo shows in the United States and throughout Europe. “Photography is my passion, obsession and addiction,” he explains on his website. When conflict arose in Istanbul recently, right before he was going to be visiting, he didn’t cancel his trip. Outside of his usual bodies of work, the images he documented were more of a favor to his Turkish friends. He spent his short time in the city documenting the severely under reported demonstrations.

Here Ruediger shares his photographs from and thoughts on his time in Istanbul.

Q: How did you find yourself in Istanbul? Did you travel there specifically to cover the protest?

A: I was hired to shoot a fashion show in Shanghai and I have some friends that live in Istanbul. I extended my trip so I could visit them. On the day before I left Shanghai I heard about the riots. I decided to focus on that while I was in Istanbul. It was a coincidence.

Q: There is a difference between demonstration and riots. You are calling this “riots.” Is that correct?

A: It started as a peaceful demonstration and then turned into something like a riot. I think the main reason was, that the national media didn’t report about it and then at a certain point it escalated.

If you look at the pictures of the square during the daytime you see people having something like a party. They are sitting on the ground eating food, listening to music and dancing. They are like most young people, and in addition to them, there were families and older people too. Then at nighttime there were two places where the rioters and the police were clashing every night and those parts are in the nighttime pictures. That’s when they stopped being demonstrations and were more riots.

Q: What equipment and settings did you use to shoot these photos?

A: They were shot with a Leica M (Typ 240) and a 50 mm Noctilux f/1.0 lens during night and a 35 mm lens during the day. Daytime I shot at ISO 200 and at nighttime with ISO 1600. It’s about the whole work in progress and the M is the best tool for me. It’s small and you don’t get the feeling you are a professional shooter. You’re just a guy snapping away with a camera.

Q: You have output all of these images in black and white though the camera captures full color. Why did you decide on that?

A: My personal work is 99% black and white. It gives me the chance to focus more on the subject. Color is mostly unnecessary information from of my perspective on the subject.

Q: There are a lot of images that feature Atatürk, the first president of Turkey, like these two pictures of people with flags featuring Atatürk’s face. He is revered as a hero. What do you think about that?

A: Those flags were an item I saw everywhere all day long. It stands for the freedom they had with Atatürk and they are now fighting to keep.

Q: Did you have any trouble taking these pictures? Did you feel any personal danger?

A: I had my press pass on and people noticed that I wasn’t Turkish. They asked me where I was from. I told them that I was from Germany and I was going back to report on what was happening here. At least 15 people thanked me and said they needed my support. The main problem is that the national media is suppressing all the information and the media coverage isn’t really reporting on the way it is. I was there for just one day and was just introduced to the situation. But to answer your question, no, not really.

Q: How was the battery power in the Leica M?

A: After 1,500 shots I was still at 40%. It was amazing. It’s a major improvement. When I used the Leica M9 I always had to bring extra batteries with me.

Q: What was your goal in shooting these pictures?

A: The starting point was to document the whole thing and that I wanted to support these people. Everything I saw on the media, which was mostly photographs or video clips on Facebook, you could see a lot of clashes with the police in a brutal and violent way, but you could also see the peaceful people behind the whole thing. When I arrived in the morning, I could feel from the beginning that they were very normal people and my intention was to show that.

Q: These images really capture the scene, while also showing some of the details of life going on among this whole thing. Can you explain what’s going on in these images?

A: There was this little micro-economy at Taksim Square where at least 10 food stamps could buy you food. There were 10 or 12 places where people could buy masks or goggles to protect themselves. Some people made a profit off the situation, but at the same time they are supporting what the people are doing. I’m not sure if this is the best way to say it in English, but it is kind of a public party or fair.

Q: That comes through, but then again you have a very grim looking picture like this one with two guys wearing gas masks. It looks like it was taken at night. Then there is the sidewalk graffiti that says, “This is psychosis”. Those are powerful images that don’t look like happy times. It looks threatening.

A: Like I said before, depending on the place and time there was a switch in mood. Some of the places were positive and fantastic. When you went to the front it was still kind of positive but you could say it was an oppressed moment. People had to wear those masks and every ten minutes or so there was another wounded person being carried through the crowd.

There were a lot of people trying to avoid the clash with the police. In this picture there is a crowd of people with a barrier and one person is standing on the barrier and talking to the crowd and he was saying “Don’t go down. There is no need to fight! Don’t let them provoke you!”

One thing we didn’t talk about yet was when I went to my dinner meeting I was in a very nice place in a very nice neighborhood. When we were driving there I heard a lot of cars honking. When we got there I saw that people were partying in the streets. It was crazy. It was more like the moms and dads and the younger sisters who weren’t old enough to go to the center. It was like regular people partying in the streets, which was very different than the square. These people were having fun. The people at the square were relaxing, but if you go a little further there were people partying.

Q: What’s going on in this image with a crowd gathered around a guy with a mask over his mouth holding what looks to be a shield?

A: The guy has a police shield they stole. And what is written on it means “murderer” in Turkish. Those guys were talking about how they got the shield and everyone was applauding. It was a storytelling situation to motivate the rest of the party.

Q: This picture of the crowd of people illuminated by a streetlight with a background of old apartment buildings and trees is a really iconic image. What do you think of this picture? What does it mean to you?

A: I love that image – they are all my babies. All those nighttime shots you see were taken while I was wearing a gas mask and goggles and I still had some tears in my eyes. There was tear gas all around. That is the situation and you just shoot. You just try to capture the moment as best as you can.

Q: There’s one image that shows a bunch of diverse people and they are carrying a banner and looking at pictures of people on the ground. Do you remember that picture?

A: Yes of course. I was told that two persons died and the rest of the pictures are people who got arrested by the government. It was kind of a picket.

Q: There are certainly a lot of damaged vehicles. There is one of two buses that are gutted.

A: I was told on the second or third night when the police was clashing with the demonstrators there was a lot of fighting. I was lucky the night I was there the fighting was really minimal. It seemed like everything was going the wrong direction.

Q: This picture where you have of all the masks is great. It looks like people were trying to hide their identity.

A: The mask is actually from the movie “V for Vendetta”. It’s about a similar situation where one person is trying to free a society without freedom. It is about a big riot and that mask is a sign for it. So it represents a riot for freedom.

Q: You mention masks and it seems to be a recurring theme in the photos. What are your thoughts on that?

A: I was there with a friend of mine and he introduced me to a lot of moments. He told me the first night the whole crowd was inexperienced with the tear gas and so people were getting creative. There is one image where four people are crouched down in the street and they are actually wearing water bottles. They cut them up the back and then put rubber bands around them. Then you have some people wearing professional firemen masks. There were a whole variety of masks and it was fascinating to see. It was one of the details I was very interested in.

Q: There is one picture here of a bus with several police shields inside. What’s going on here?

A: That was the place where the police were resting. They would go in the bus and rest and have food or whatever. I would have liked to cover more of the police side of things. I asked them if it was okay to shoot them and some people were okay with it while others were very aggressively against it. I wasn’t really able to get that aspect of the riots.

Q: How was documenting this different from your typical approach? Would you ever want to do this again?

A: Years ago when I had a different job I always wanted to do something like this. You can see I have a Magnum influence in my photography. I was told, once you make the decision to go and photograph war you to have to be aware you step into such extreme situations, that you have a bad chance of never getting out of it. You become an addict and if you want to have a family and kids like I do today it might be best to not go to war. So I focused on my own personal work and projects, that capture a little more of the happy side of life, combined with a structure of my own agency, that I started with my best friend, to be able to work commercially in an anonymous way to make my living.

I wouldn’t consider this actually being war; it wasn’t really that dangerous, though it was very emotional for me to shoot. There is an image of an old man carrying his water bottle. This photograph is one of the most emotional for me. There was tear gas all around. Most people were wearing masks. Then this old man walks down slowly not wearing anything and just carrying the bottle to bring something to drink to the young rioters.

I wouldn’t say I would not do such a thing again, but I don’t see it becoming my focus in photography. Beside the danger in those situations, maybe the most relevant subjects about the human race like war and misery, I feel the media today doesn’t really want to show. These extreme things are definitely worth covering. Then at the same time most people in our Western world don’t even care. Turkey was a special case for me since I knew I could reach out to many people around me and have an influence.

Q: What do you plan on doing with all these pictures?

A: Spread them as wide as possible. My people in Istanbul are quite connected. They will send those images to the New York Times and the BBC. I just want to get those images out there. I offer them for free to the media.

Thank you for your time, Ruediger!

 -  Leica Internet Team

To learn more about Ruediger, visit his website www.ruedigerglatz.com. To see one of his personal photography projects, visit www.addicted2click.comHis commercial work and agency you find at www.imageagency.com.