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Turkish photographers take on the world

A group of Istanbul-based artists has banded together with the modest aim of reintroducing everybody to everybody.

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The entrance to their office is inauspicious, a dimly lit landing reminiscent of a New York tenement somehow misplaced halfway around the world. The greeting is anything but New York, however.

 “Welcome!” booms a voice as the door opens and I am greeted by a flash of blinding light.

As my eyes adjust, I see that this is less an office than the workshop of a mad scientist. Every inch of counter space is topped with spinning wheels and levers; the walls are plastered over with photographs. I am immediately ushered to the far corner where a white backdrop and lights are set up. Notebook still in hand, I look into the camera. Flash! I glance past the photographer to where the rest of the team relaxes, chai in hand. Flash!

Meet Yuz Bin Yuz, an artists' collective that is something of an overnight sensation in Turkey. In the five years since they began their project — with the aim of photographing 100,000 faces, as the name Yuz Bin Yuz suggests (in Turkish) — they have snapped some 3,000 portraits. Their goal: an archive of 21st-century people.

“We have forgotten how to look at each other, but photography has given us another chance,” said one of the six-person Yuz Bin Yuz team, which prefers not to publish individual members' names. “We are interested in the human, in introducing people to people.”

“This is important for us,” says another member. “We are the supporters of Goethe, we are the supporters of Borges, the supporters of Beethoven. We want to support thinking people in general, not emphasize ourselves.”

The project began in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district. Armed with a white sheet and digital camera, the team spent months welcoming everyone who passed by to be photographed. Over time the collection of images grew into a portrait of the neighborhood itself, from the grocers to the street musicians, the painters and the litter collectors. Branching out into other parts of Istanbul, the Yuz Bin Yuz team began to document their city, one person at a time.

Now it is Turkey’s turn. The team plans to visit each of Turkey’s diverse regions, photographing people for months at a time in each place. When asked where they would go after Turkey, their answer was immediate: the world.

The team is in contact with 27 European capitals, where they hope to hold simultaneous street exhibitions to introduce the people of Turkey in full-length portraits. From there the rest will follow: photographing the people of the world until they hit a hundred thousand.