British Journal of Photography
Tradition & Identity, July/August 2022
Issue 7909
By Diane Smyth
    In a video game called GeoGuessr, players are pitched into a random place located via Google Maps and have to work out where they are. The best clues often lie in the street signs, but when Ci Demi started working on his İstanbul-based series Şehir Fikri (Notion of A City) he decided to take them out. Then, inspired by Georges Perec’s novel A Void (1969) — which dispenses with the letter ‘e’ — he went further and removed the people and animals. “I tend to photograph these quiet moments so at first you’re not sure what’s going on, then you look closer and realise something weird is taking place,” he says. “It’s unclear whether you’re in İstanbul or Turkey or wherever, I love creating that tension.”

   It is an intriguing approach from an image-maker who has devoted himself to İstanbul, his hometown. But though Demi is a committed street photographer, who spends at least two hours a day walking and shooting, his images are not about İstanbul as such. Instead they are a portrait of how city makes him feel, a personal psychogeography. “Documenting İstanbul is a secondary function of my photographs,” he says. “For most of my stories I want to set a certain emotion. It’s not really a comfortable life here, or at least that’s how it feels to me. It’s crowded, it’s loud, and it’s ever-expanding.”

   Demi was born in 1986 in the Beyoğlu district, grew up in the Kadıköy neighbourhood, and spent many summers in İzmir, a city further south on the Aegean. All three places are known for being progressive. He studied Italian literature at İstanbul University, and only got into photography at the age of 28, after buying a camera on a whim. His work is informed by his interest in Italy, and in particular his love of giallos — mysteries and thrillers that were first published as pulp fiction and then as popular films in 1960s and 70s. Giallo movies have highly stylised colours and tones, and Demi freely edits his images to evoke them. Şehir Fikri, for example, revolves around blues, oranges and greens, and Demi has turned down the contrast throughout. “My colours are independent of what İstanbul looks like,” he says. “The oranges came together when I was making the book with the editor.”
   Demi describes this book as a ‘photonovella’ and says it will be published soon by Onagöre [page 22], as part of the Turkish publisher’s ongoing series on İstanbul. Demi adds that he is excited about Onagöre’s programme, and by organisations such as Cemre Yeşil Gönenli’s FiLBooks [page 26], a publisher and photobook shop launched by the photographer in the city. But, he says, he often has to look beyond Turkey to make sense of his photography and make a living. Indeed, he has had considerable success internationally, showing his series Will the World End in the Daytime at Les Rencontres d’Arles, and selected as one of the finalists in Encontros da Imagem’s Discovery Awards in 2022 for his series Unutursan Darılmam (I Won’t Be Upset If You Forget Me).

   But Demi’s work remains embedded in İstanbul — and more than that, in his own way of seeing the city. Unutursan Darılmam stems from a major depression he suffered in 2019, for example, when he spent much of his time at home. “The author seeks melancholic moments; serene, dreary, and sometimes chilling — often restless, but also loving,” he writes. “But also, the body of work documents nothing.” BJP