Following an intense graft scandal, the AKP government in power posited the local elections as a referendum on its rule. Rather than find myself drawn into a potential conflict area in the southeast, where I feared contentious elections could lead to political violence, I became absorbed with the Istanbul I knew by inch, its neighborhoods, Mahallesi, now transformed into poltiical arenas.
So I stayed in Istanbul and wandered the places I knew well from my previous 2011 journey, documented in my Khamra Obscura project. On every wall a poster—or a thousand posters—for the elections. It's on everyone's lips, Erdoğan and the corruption scandal and Gezi Park crackdowns; the negotiations with Apo, the imprisoned leader of the PKK on the ceasefire and peace with the Kurds; Fetullah Gülen, the exiled former ally and his shadowy insurrection against the AKP.
On the evening of the elections, blackouts strike major cities with close results. Blaming the situation on a cat wandering into a electrical transformer, the state brushes off allegations of rigging while the AKP's candidates come out victorious in most significant races. Erdoğan declares himself the winner, victoriously absolved by the democratic holy water of votes.
On the walls of the city: posters cover every surface, amassing, and reaching a critical mass, break down; the names of politicians scrawled across homes and shop doors like the names of children in impoverished neighborhoods slated for destruction; Apo and PKK written in the hidden corners like candidates whose names must not be spoken out loud; banners reaching across decimated mahalle like colorful laundry lines; Berkin Elvan, the boy murdered by a tear-gas canister fired by security forces during the Gezi Park demonstrations, is written on a wall and whitewashed. After the election every poster begins to decay, just eyes peering out from the wall, as though their faces are concealed by the city itself as a chadoor, desperate for modesty here in the street.
Mahalle documents the environment of Istanbul's neighborhoods during this tense week.
Full photoessay on exposure.