In the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, in that open space between the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque, I have many memories. My first time backpacking — a three-week trip through Turkey and Greece in 1997 — ended here. So did a 14-month trip from Beijing to Istanbul in late 2004. And in between those dates, in December 2000, I sat here on a bench, processing the unpleasant experience of having been drugged and robbed a couple days earlier on a street in another part of the city.
Another memory is captured in the picture above, taken in 2013. I remember the joy I felt at stumbling upon this Turkish girl’s happiness — and even joy in her colorful coat, which stood out bravely and hopefully in a world turned white and grey. In a few days I would slip across the border to photograph in Syria, and so as I wandered through Istanbul’s snow that afternoon, thinking about the unknowns that lay ahead, I felt afraid, and alone. But when this girl and her mother allowed me to photograph them as they built a snowman, I felt less alone, and I saw beauty and love.
In the background of this photo is the Blue Mosque, an architectural triumph completed in 1616. But on that afternoon in 2013, no less grand was this mom and daughter-turned-snowman-architect, constructing an edifice that would soon enough melt, but also building a memory that would stand for seasons to come.
THINGS MENTIONED OR RELATED:
- Girls I photographed on January 14 in Atmeh, Syria
- My story “A Cup of Coffee and a Soft Chair,” set in Istanbul in December 2004
- An interview with my friend Noa, who hosted Kayla Mueller, who in 2013 was kidnapped in Syria and later killed
- Turkish novelist and nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s book Snow