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Aga Khan Museum’s City Transformed

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The images of Turkish artist Murat Germen are featured in the Aga Khan Museum’s showing of A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul then and Now, in Toronto.
Contributed image.

Header-image-StephenBy Robert Stephen

(TORONTO, ON) – Istanbul is a city with deep religious and political culture. The Greeks lost Istanbul in 1453 when, as Constantinople, it was conquered by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. There is rich Greek heritage in Istanbul but, as empires go, the Greek one certainly receded to such a point Greece was conquered by the Turks.

We don’t get much politics at the Aga Kahn, but we get a fabulous array of mostly photos of Istanbul, primarily from 1850 to the modern day. Many of the photographs of old Istanbul are from the private collection of Turkish philanthropist Omer M Koç.

There are also striking modernist photos, particularly the compressionist and digital images of acclaimed Turkish artist Murat Germen, which present a surreal and dizzying portrait of a city on the move, bustling with massive energy.

Germen even presents us with a panoramic photograph of Toronto. His colours are vivid and striking.

While Germen may have us admiring the modern Istanbul and its challenges, the numerous photos by James Robertson present Istanbul of the mid 19th century.

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The images of Turkish artist Murat Germen are featured in the Aga Khan Museum’s showing of A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul then and Now, in Toronto.
Contributed image.

There are pictures of merchants, young Greek men drinking beer, street sellers, firefighters, coolies, costume studies, Ottoman women in boats, Ox-drawn carriages, fishermen, and views from many different panoramic locations within the city.

These casual images of ordinary people offer a wealth of information about the life and social practices of 19th century Istanbul. The “Old Istanbul” photographs capture a precise point in time and are amusing, if not relaxing.

The Germen photos are much more frantic and almost cartoonish. One sees old Istanbul, but far in the background a myriad of skyscrapers remind us the city is no crusty old barnacle. Perhaps the most relaxing Germen photo is at the beginning of the exhibit, where there is long panoramic shot of Istanbul in the 1850’s set below Germen’s 2015 Istanbul photo of the same scene.

One can literally spend hours making comparisons.

The futuristic Aga Kahn Museum is set in beautiful grounds in suburbia. Its entrance and main hall are modern, full of natural light, and welcoming. There is both a renowned restaurant with spectacular ceiling and view, and a cafeteria serving up some delectable Turkish treats.

A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul then and Now runs until June 26. Grab a lunch either before or after the exhibit. Both ways you win.

I wonder if they have any Turkish wine?

(The Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Drive, Toronto)

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