Monday, 29 February 2016




After hearing about the Aga Khan Museum’s exciting first year of existence from afar, I was finally able to pay it a visit this month. Fortunately, the day I chose happened to be the first day the new temporary exhibition “A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul Then and Now” was open! I found it to be an excellent show with many features of a successful exhibition.

The Aga Khan Museum glowing in the sunset. Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

There are no photographs allowed in the exhibition space which struck me as ironic as it is an exhibition of photography after all, but of course, I acquiesced as any respectful museum-goer should. Instead of taking my own, I have done my best to provide appropriate images to entice you to make the trip out to the Museum to see this stunning exhibition for yourself.

Walk with me through each section of "Images of Istanbul" and allow your mental portrait of the city to develop.

The entrance into "Images of Istanbul" on the second floor of the Museum. Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

“Architectural Heritage and Urban Landmarks”

After walking through a foyer-like area that displayed portraits of Istanbul’s photography pioneers such as Vassilaki Kargopoulo, some of the sultans who patronized them, and an early portable travel camera called a Reisekamera, I entered the room where the historic obsession with the stylistic differences in the local architecture became apparent. It can be difficult to make old photos of buildings interesting, but the diversity of the subjects chosen - the Hagia Sophia, a palace, Byzantine-era walls, the waterfront, fortresses, cemeteries, fountains, and more - held my interest. Closed imperial albums sit behind glass, their covers resplendent with rich colour and texture. The iPads subtly embedded in the table beside them happily allow you to digitally turn their pages and see what is inside.

“The Glorification of Istanbul: Panoramas”

Two lengthy, mirror-image panoramas feature prominently in this section of the exhibition. One was taken last year, while the other is 120 years old, but both were taken from the same medieval stone edifice called the Galata Tower in Istanbul. Positioning the photos closely together allows for a direct comparison between the skyline they present. The human landscape of the city and its waterfront has changed quite a great deal. However, nearly all of the mosques and historic architecture remain, some even partially obscured by scaffolding that I hope indicates restoration. The Museum provided little interpretive text, but I appreciated the chance to make my own observations, and many visitors were held captive by the panoramas for several minutes. They are truly breathtaking.

The main image used for the exhibition. Source: The Aga Khan Museum.

“Glimpses Into Everyday Life”

Against the backdrop of a massive, enlarged panorama covering the entire wall of the narrow walkway that allows visitors to gaze down into the permanent exhibition area below, a parade of striking images offer an intimate look into quotidian experiences in Istanbul at the advent of photography. I especially enjoyed the inclusion of stereoscopes and stereoscopic photos, which offered a way to help visitors of all ages to engage with the photographs. Who wouldn’t want to see how past generations made 3D images?

“Murat Germen: Contemporary Photographs of Istanbul”

In Murat Germen’s Istanbul, the past and present literally collide in the many “muta-morphosis” images he has created by horizontally compressing panoramas of the city. I’ve personally never seen anything like these photographs, and this method suits Germen’s purposes perfectly. He expresses a kind of cautionary tale about the effects of rapid growth in an ancient city by evoking the collision of ideas, people, buildings, and time. A series of impressive, unconstricted modern panoramas also by Germen are also displayed as an antithetical contrast, and a selection of historic panoramic albums remind visitors of the origins of this photography practise in the sprawling metropolis.

One of Germen's visually arresting "muta-morphosis" photographs. Source: The Aga Khan Museum.

“A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul Then and Now” will be open from February 6, 2016 - June 26, 2016 and is located on the second floor of the Aga Khan Museum. I hope you go visit, and if you do, share your thoughts in the comments!


  1. I really need to get to the Aga Kham Museum, this exhibit looks fantastic. I love the muta-morphosis panoramas. Is he compressing them digitally? I can't even wrap my head around how he did them!

    1. I agree - you should go! I know it's a little bit of a trek from downtown but it is very worth it if you can find the time. There's a good number of the panoramas, so you won't be disappointed! They are truly awesome. I don't know enough about photography to know how Germen may have created them by non-digital means, but you never know!