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Portraits in Transit: Stopover Istanbul

by - 26 October

Interview with the the Turkish photographer Mustafa Çankaya about his project "100 Faces, 100 Countries".

"100 Faces, 100 Countries" is a series of portraits of 100 people from 100 different countries, who have transited through Istanbul airport Ataturk. The diversity of people passing by every day through the airport inspired him to start this project.

What’s the most challenging aspect of the project, how he chooses the people and what he has learned along the way - read what Mustafa has shared with us. 

Mustafa, how did you come up with the idea for the project 100 faces, 100 countries? What was your inspiration? 
Since 2004 I’m working at Istanbul Atatürk Airport at the same time I have been professionally photographing for 7 years. I’m specialized in live music, stage and portrait photography. I wanted to combine my photography passion with the place where I’m working ‘the Airport’. I saw thousands of different faces passing by every day, from every culture & every part of the world. It was like a treasure for a photographer. This is how my project ‘100faces100countries’ started.

Why exactly 100 faces?
I wanted to put a target to myself and it had to be a logical number. Turkish Airlines actually is flying to 122 countries so I decided to choose the number 100 which is difficult but still reachable for me. Off course I also had to consider about my limited time.

How do you choose the people you want to shoot?
I’m walking almost every day in the transit section of the Airport to find the right face. The person I’m shooting has to be different in some way. That could be the hair style or the dress but the most important is the energy between me and the participant.

How many countries have you already covered?
So far I have shoot portraits from 77 different countries and the number is growing everyday. I try to post everday one portrait on the Project Instagram account

What’s the most challenging aspect of doing this project?
I had no idea that it could be so difficult. First of all the project is taking place inside the Airport where I need to have a permission from the governor. The permission is limited within 15 days only and I have to apply every 15th day again. The other problem is time. I’m working 5 days a week and sometimes I can shoot only during my meal-break.

Are you going to continue the project in the new airport? 
Unfortunately not. The new Airport will be operated by another company. I still have time until 29 December I hope this time will be enough for me because everyday it’s getting more difficult to find new countries.

What did you learn about human nature while doing this project - shooting different faces from different countries?
Now I know much better how to approach to people. I even know how the people will respond to my offer. If you ask a German the fixed answer is : I believe you already have German in your project. Conversely all French people accept to join the project. It’s really difficult to photograph some countries. I'm also surprised that so many people speak or at least understand English. At the Airport you can observe how strong globalization is. Even if you meet someone with a local dress from Africa everybody has a smartphone.

What’s the one thing that unites the faces in your project?
It’s the Airport itself. All the participants go through the same place. Probably it’s the only Photography Project where people from 100 different countries will be shoot at the same place.

Are people different while on the road?
Yes sure, they are all tired :) This is one of the first reason why some people refuse to be in the project. The other name of the project could be "portrait series of tired people".

What’s the most interesting story you have heard from the participants in your project?
I had the most interesting story with Guynel from Martinique (an island in the Caribbean). He was sitting in a coffee and working on his laptop. He had a Vietnamese conical hat on and eye catching purple shirt. When I meet people like him I’m trying not to miss. I approached him, explained about my project as usual and asked if he would like to join. He told me that he has to ask first. I didn’t understood what he was meaning and asked again if he would like to join the project. This time he raised his voice, said again ‘I have to ask’ and closed his eyes for about 1-2 minutes. 10 seconds later I understood what he was meaning :) I had no idea at which level he was but the answer was Yes.

Do you plan an exhibition after you finish the project?
I haven’t come to that stage yet but off-course I have something in my mind for an exhibition. Hope to find some support for that otherwise it will be difficult.

Do you travel a lot? Which is your favorite destination and why?
I used to travel a lot but 4 years ago my naughty son was born and it stooped :) My favorite destination is South America. I really love to speak in Spanish, the tropical nature and the colonial cities. Nowadays I'm also making a list of countries I'm planning to visit like Iran, Vietnam & Cuba.

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