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The Soul of the Steppe

The photogaphs of Paul Veysseyre

Anatolia, Transient Lives
by Paul Veysseyre
Editions Djahânnâma

The French photographer Paul Veysseyre has devoted decades to documenting Turkey. Taken from the second volume of his Turkish trilogy, these striking images from the 1970s and 1980s – and his companions’ vivid memories – are a hymn to Anatolia, the wild beauty of the land, the dignity of its people, and the simple genius of their dwellings. Contributions by Maggie Quigley Pınar, Nicole, Bouvier Veysseyre, Jeanine Riegel

  • Rustic interior, Çavdarhisar, near Kütahya, April 1990. This quintessentially Turkish house has a carved doorway, a sedir for sleeping and sitting and high shelves for storing fruit and provisions
  • A farming couple in their reception room, Yolağzı – Gaziantep, February 1986. This photograph, taken in a village with beautiful earth houses close to the Syrian border, is the cover image of Veysseyre’s magnificent new book, Anatolia, Transient Lives, available from Cornucopia

Falling in love with ‘la Turquie profonde’

Paul Veysseyre worked at the Gallo-Roman Museum of Saint-Romain-en-Gal near Lyon for some 28 years as attaché de conservation du patrimoine (writes Maggie Quigley Pınar). His main task was to document mosaics and wall paintings in the museum’s collection and their painstaking restoration, but he has also dedicated decades to taking black-and-white photographs of Turkey.

His first volume, Istanbul, Gateway to Happiness, focused on the old capital and cultural centre of the Turkish domains, and covered 20 years or so.

Paul perceives Anatolia: Transient Lives, from which the remarkable photographs in this article are taken, as the second book in a trilogy on his life’s work, documenting the passage of time in Turkey and the region through the lives of inhabitants over a period of 40 years.

He is currently working on a third volume, Djahânnâma, covering the Balkans, Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia, which is due out later this year. For this volume, Veysseyre returned to Turkey time and again from his base in Lyon to capture the essence of the Anatolian countryside. “I sought to gain a depth of knowledge and experience of just a few countries rather than a superficial ‘visitor’s view’ of many countries.”

How to capture all those years spent in Turkey? The first and last photos were in his mind from the very first day. The portrait of the old couple from the book’s cover (far right) is his signature piece. “It summarises what I feel about Anatolian folk: the unassuming dignity, the mutual respect between individuals, the stillness and depth of their connection to the earth, to each other.”

The last picture in the book is of snowy wastes on the road from Kayseri to Malatya (perhaps even bleaker than the photograph of the Kağnıkatan Pass above). The subject is a local villager who hitched a lift with Paul and travelled 40–50 kilometres back to his village. He asked to be put down in the middle of the drifting blizzard, then slowly walked away into an unfathomable nothingness towards a settlement who knows where. Only once, far away, did he deflect from his course to avoid some unseen obstacle. Paul watched him until he finally disappeared in a mist of snow.

That is the final statement of the book. Its 156 photos are a tiny sample of the thousands he shot in Anatolia. His archive totals more than 50,000 pictures in all, most of them taken in Turkey. “There is consistency among the pictures taken over 40 years,” says Paul. Consistency in the subject matter, the flow of people, the type of telling image he always seeks.

To read the full article, purchase Issue 55

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Issue 55, May 2017 Parodies Lost
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 55
  • Puppetmaster of Pera

    Yusuf Franko Kusa used brush and pen and position to lampoon and pull the strings of Ottoman high society. Unseen for 60 years, his caricatures are now the subject of a fascinating exhibition in Istanbul, writes K Mehmet Kentel

  • The great defender

    At one time all roads led to Erzurum, a key stop on a great caravan route and a strategic bastion against invasion. Today it is a remote city on Turkey’s Asian frontier with an important history crying out to be discovered. In Part 2 of Cornucopia’s Beauty and the East series, the photographer Brian McKee continues his tour of eastern Anatolia in Erzurum as Scott Redford leads us from Turkic citadel to Mongol minarets.

  • Man, myth and mastic

    It was for centuries the preserve of sultans, extolled by the ancients, sought after in the harem, a staple of palace kitchen and pharmacy. More precious than gold, mastic brought fortune and fame to the island of Chios, today the world’s sole source of this ‘Arabic gum’. Now, thanks to a pioneering initiative, the Turkish shores across the water will be green with mastic groves. Text and photographs by Berrin Torolsan

  • Melting hearts

    An ambitious new work of classical music – based on Howard Blake’s enchanting score for ‘The Snowman’ – has just received its world premiere. This concert is just one of many achievements by Talent Unlimited, a Turkish charity that gives budding young virtuosi a helping hand. Tony Barrell tells the story. Photographs: Monica Fritz

  • Golden globes

    And the award for most versatile, most nourishing and best-loved ingredient goes to… the humble chickpea. Berrin Torolsan explores its history and its limitless talent to entertain us in a multitude of different roles

  • Citizen canine

    A fascinating exhibition at the Istanbul Research Institute that explores a dog’s life in Ottoman Istanbul and the transformation of attitudes as Westernisation takes hold

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Issue 55, May 2017 Parodies Lost
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