Two years ago, after being wounded in Libya, I made a promise to myself, my family, friends and loved ones to never cover war, civil unrest, protests or even a particularly robust political debate ever again. After witnessing the unfolding of the Arab revolutions in Egypt and Libya, my desire to witness and photograph violent events had never been lower. In short, I had turned my back on anybody and anything that I thought would cause me harm.
However, I do live in Istanbul — a huge, bustling Turkish metropolis that is currently at the center of mix of foreign policy dilemmas, political strife and internal debates.
And this weekend, I’ve witnessed a burgeoning protest movement against the construction of another mall and shopping precinct on one of the few slivers of green space in a city that is increasingly urbanized. Corruption seems to be endemic, and any spare green area is quickly developed without any public consultation.
I wanted to join the protestors to see for myself what was happening 25 minutes from where I live. As I stepped on the metro, I was hit with a knot in my stomach — that swirling, vomit-inducing feeling that only happens when you are utterly petrified. Istanbul’s locals aren’t known for being particularly outgoing, chatty or forthcoming on public transit, and Saturday was no different. It seemed just like any other normal day.
But then the train came to a stop, and every carriage erupted with loud clapping and banging on any object that came into view. It continued as the people made their way up the escalators into the burning mid-day heat.
For the next two days I followed them from the peripheries. Tear gas was fired, barricades were constructed, fires burned and stones thrown. Angry anarchists confronted police in Gezi Park — where I saw mothers bring their young children to witness a momentous event happening in their city.
These pictures were made with no assignment in hand and no particular desire to even make a coherent body of work. My purpose was to just witness and to observe with a sharper eye from experience.
Guy Martin is an English documentary photographer living in Istanbul. Represented by Panos Pictures, Martin previously covered the Caucuses, Georgia and Russia as well as the uprisings in Egypt and Libya.
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