[We are honoured to host below a guest blog post by international photographer and multimedia journalist Sebastian Meyer, a British-American photographer based in Suleymaniye, Northern Iraq. Sebastian and Kamaran Najm Ibrahim, his colleague at their Metrography photo agency, worked in Tarlabasi during the summer of 2010 documenting the lives of the recycling crews. In the intervening 18 months since they photographed there, the recycling workers and their familes have all been moved out of that street as part of the eviction process; the once busy street is now mostly empty of people.
Thanks to Sebastian for sharing his past work with us and next week we’ll feature the work of his partner Kamaran.]
At all hours of the day and night, young men from Tarlabasi zip through the streets of Istanbul hauling enormous loads of what appears to be trash. They move at unimaginable speeds maneuvering their tak-taks–overflowing with cardboard, bottles, and paper–through the city’s narrow streets.
This isn’t trash, though, this is a semi-clandestine recycling operation that shadows the city’s own municipal garbage collection and is the source of income for numerous families in Tarlabasi.
As the collectors navigate the city, no trash can is overlooked, no dumpster left untouched. They even dart into stores to collect the empty shoe boxes. When the tak-taks are full, the young men ferry their loads back home where they empty them into basement rooms for sorting. Fathers, mothers, brothers, cousins then set about sorting the material which will eventually be sold to recycling companies by the kilo. A tak-tak full of paper and cardboard takes about an hour to collect and when sorted will bring in around $3.00
The majority of the families that do this work are poor Kurdish families that have moved from eastern Turkey to Istanbul. Many of the young men have left wives and children back in their village and can only afford to visit them a few times a year. In lieu of their families, they rely on their tight-knit community for support.
Searching through trash cans and hauling heavy loads of recycling by hand is extremely difficult and often dangerous work and although they aren’t proud that they have to do this for a living, they aren’t embarrassed either. Their concerns are focused on supporting their families and their tight-knit community of Tarlabasi.
Sebastian Meyer, October 2011