ISTANBUL, Turkey—As much as I believe in photographs—in the power of an image to get across some essential truth or indescribable beauty, or something like that—in Istanbul I realize that there are moments in life that cannot be replicated on film or in megapixels.
From where I sit on the water, outside this brand new art museum, I see the minarets of the Süleymaniye rising into the air, the peak of an empire in their perfect symmetry. To their left is the pink dome of the Hagia Sophia, where the Orthodox icons on the wall have listened to Christian prayers, then Muslim ones, and now hear the clamor of ten thousand tourists a day. Where the Bosporus meets the Golden Horn, the balcony of the Topkapı Palace juts out into the water, once allowing a 13-year-old boy sultan to stand and look out over two continents and to believe—to know—that he owned the world.
I zoom in, zoom out, and shift the camera in my hands. I re-focus the lens, change the aperture, adjust the white balance to try to capture the view. But when the shutter closes, it leaves behind the sound of the ferries cruising across the strait, gliding between Europe and Asia, and of the chatter of the Turkish families sitting around me. The photo won’t catch the heat of the sunlight that has settled on the left side of my body, or the cool of the salty breeze as it rises off the water, buoyed by the waves.
In a few minutes I’ll step back into the air-conditioned museum to browse slowly, relishing the air conditioning on such a hot day. I’ll stand around for a while, reflecting on the contemporary art installations, the abstract paintings, and the collection of photographs in the basement—visuals beautifully arranged to tell the story of this city.
For now, though, I’ll stay on the shore and keep looking across the water, listening in for a moment while the Bosporus and the skyline keep on talking, back and forth, like I’m not here.