murat pulat sony alpha 7II old man sits on a bed in front of a wall covered in graffiti

City of Stories

Murat Pulat

The historic city of Istanbul means different things to different people. It’s the largest city in Europe; and the only one that stretches across two continents; it’s a cosmopolitan mix of cultures distilled through millennia of trade, education and religion… but for photographer Murat Pulat, the city means something else: Hope.

I came from Ankara to Istanbul,” he explains “and it was to study. I wanted to finish my degree and live here and, at that time, I always thought I’d earn my living here. It was my dream, and I see that same dream, the same hope, in so many other people I meet.
murat pulat sony alpha 7RIII lady sitting in a barbers chair getting her hair cut with a large dog on her lap © Murat Pulat | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/60s @ f/3.2, ISO 400

It’s those other people that inspired Murat’s ‘City of Hope’ project. Centring on Istanbul, but reflecting lives in all cities, it’s a series of portraits and candids, each detailing the people that city life seduces and inspires. How it makes or breaks them.

“I was always getting out and taking pictures,” he says, “but that wasn’t enough, I wanted to learn about people’s lives, and satisfy my curiosity. So, I shot all over the city: office workers, shop keepers, the homeless in abandoned places, and demonstrators on marches. ‘City of Hope’ is a patchwork of those stories.”

murat pulat sony alpha 7II a cobbler sits and rubs polish into a show while an old man looks through the window © Murat Pulat | Sony α7 II + FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/320s @ f/5.6, ISO 1600
One thing’s for sure though – it’s not easy to keep your hope in a big city. All these people have hope when they come here. They want to be something – powerful, rich, or maybe just free – but too many of them lose the game because the chances are so slim. Being successful is not the story of most.

To capture ‘City of Hope’ Murat primarily uses an α7R III, and having made the step up from an α7 II, he’s quick to single out the resolution and image quality as game changers.

murat pulat sony alpha 7RIII young lad pulling a cart along the street in istanbul © Murat Pulat | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/640s @ f/2.8, ISO 800

“The main thing is the definition, and the dynamic range,” he explains, “especially the latter, because the whole city is my studio, and I have to be ready for anything. I can see something and have to react and get the shot without having the luxury of adjusting the light. It could be backlight, or a bright sky, but with the α7R III, it’s easy to bring back detail in the highlights and the shadows. The same goes for its ISO performance. It’s hugely adaptable, so I can capture subjects in low light with ease.”

Each subject is a new chapter in his project, but it can be tough, he says, because the story is often that people have lost their hope. Sometimes it’s the LGBT Pride marchers who’ve had their rights to demonstrate taken away, and sometimes it’s the homeless.

murat pulat sony alpha 7II homeless person lying on a bed of cardboard in the streets of istanbul © Murat Pulat | Sony α7 II + FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/5000s @ f/6.3, ISO 400

“I know lots of people who’ve come here – good guys and good workers – but they have to live on the streets now. It’s rainy and cold, and I can’t help them. I take pictures, talk, spend time, but I can come back to my life, and they cannot. I’m an observer, and that’s hard sometimes.”

The α7R III’s AF system has also revolutionised the way Murat works, to the extent in fact that “10 years ago, I wouldn’t get to do this project because cameras just didn’t work in the way that I need them to.”

murat pulat sony alpha 7RIII lady standing by the docks in istanbul holding a bunch of roses © Murat Pulat | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/640s @ f/7.1, ISO 200

With the Eye AF mode, he says, “it’s just a push of the button and then I know that the focus is locked on the subject. That’s so important because if I’m using the AF point to find the eye, then focusing and recomposing, it’s time in which I could miss the moment. It’s one less thing – a technical thing – to worry about. I know that every time it will be sharp even when shooting wide open, and it leaves me to be creative. ”The build and the size of the α7R III has impressed Murat, too. It means that he can get the pictures he needs in all weathers and without the weight of a DSLR or medium format camera. “To shoot the way I do, on the street, the camera has to be ready for rain or snow, and it is. And the size is perfect, especially when you’re using small lenses like the FE 35mm f/2.8. You can be almost invisible.”

murat pulat sony alpha 7RIII young lad sitting on a box holding a black bird in the streets of istanbul © Murat Pulat | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/5000s @ f/8.0, ISO 640
I’m not finished. It will take a few more years, because I want to make more images, particularly of those who are the real winners – the ones who get what they want. But winners are more difficult to find, and sometimes it’s because they don’t know they’re winning. So many people are caught in the trap of wanting more and more that their wishes can’t be fulfilled. We have to simplify our lives and realise success isn’t what we see on TV and in magazines. We have to learn as a society that all people have a talent, they all have skills and everyone is valuable. Maybe that's my biggest hope.

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