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January 2018

~ Through Laleli, Istanbul. Next time I’ll take the subway

If you ever come to Istanbul, skip  walking through Laleli neighbourhood! Not because it may be dangerous, dirty or anything, but sellers will drink your blood to lure you to their clothing and textile stores where they will rob you of prices. Don’t be surprised if they know how to speak more languages ​​and even your native language. Namely, I experienced it all.

Laleli is a neighborhood of Fatih, Istanbul, Turkey, lying between Beyazıt and Aksaray. It is known for its large textile wholesaling business and is home to the Literature and Science Faculties of Istanbul University, designed by Sedad Hakkı Eldem and Emin Onat in the 1940s. It is served by a stop on the T1 tram line which runs along the Ordu Caddesi.

My hotel was in Aksaray, and the places I went to werea few miles away. I had a subway ticket, but I didn’t want to travel by tram or subway. I was walking, I wanted my steps to be counted and I wanted to experience Istanbul as it is, busy, noisy and tiring.If you like crowded streets, full of garbage, illegal shops, restaurant menus with no prices and street prostitutes, then Aksaray may be the perfect place for you.The food in the restaurants is OK, as are the prices! Lot of Meat, a huge amount of spices, ayran and Turkish traditional music.

 

Traveling every day from the hotel to the desired destination, I walked through Laleli Street. Starting from the first pedestrian crossing where you pray literally all the gods to save you as you cross the street to the slippery streets uphill that are watered every morning. The streets are so slippery that you need hiking poles to walk … but there aren’t that many uphills, I’m exaggerating.
Lurking in the back streets is the much older Bodrum Mosque (AKA Mesih Paşa Cami), which started life as a 10th-century Byzantine church attached to the Myreiaion Palace. Beside it is an underground cistern, probably of similar date. Both stand on the site of a lost Rotunda dating back to the fifth century which is believed to have been the second largest such circular Roman temple after the Pantheon in Rome itself.

 

Walking through Laleli you can notice huge shops selling textiles and clothes, also a large number of jewelry store. Most of the clothes are branded with big fashion brands that are fake. Prices of course are not there and you can negotiate. The quality is questionable, but at least you can brag about wearing a Gucci or Louis Vuitton.

 

 

You may also notice people pushing huge bags on carts (very kind gentlemen). The goods in bags are packed for the big market and exported to various countries of the world.

Cats are literally everywhere! On the street, on the head, on the bench, in the shops … and they are always kind to cuddle.

It is no coincidence to see people sitting and cooking on the ruins of an ancient Roman city that attracts the attention of tourists.

I wouldn’t recommend staying in the Laleli District simply because I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking around there at night. There are much nicer areas of Istanbul to base yourself out of. It’s not all that far from Sultanahmet proper, and the tram does go to Laleli, but I wouldn’t book a hotel any further out in that direction than Beyazit.

”It’s a sprawling, beautiful city, still, in spite of the unrestrained construction where Europe and Asia meet. There’s no place like it—and for a time, until very recently, it looked like the future.” – Anthony Bourdain

 

~ FCKKDD Up: A Conversation with Raafae Ghory

FCKKDD Up: A Conversation with Raafae Ghory

The laptop rang on a Tuesday night. Dehydrated, STP’s Maya Kotomori pinged artist and friend Raafae Ghory into the Zoom call, eager to quench her thirst with some good art-chat. Raafae Ghory (b. 1997, Lahore) is a photography based artist whose recent work explores the ways in which a persona can be performatively generated, dispersed, and then corrupted in and across digital and physical spaces. We chat about it all in the wake of his sold out book, ‘FCKKDD.’

Maya Kotomori: What was the process of making this book like?

Raafae Ghory: It’s funny to think about an artistic process when memes [are the] subject matter. That’s so silly! Archiving these images was something I did naturally. I didn’t think about it as a process or practice until I had the idea of making a book. Then I started going back through the images, re-experiencing them. I came across some really good texts that became the foundational theoretical framework of the ideas behind what I did.

MK: What did you read?

RG: The first one that put me in a good place was Giving An Account of Oneself by Judith Butler. After that, I read The Undercommons by Fred Moten, I would recommend that if you haven’t read it. I read The Fisherwoman by Toni Morrison, also.

MK: Fire, I love her.

RG: Have you read that piece? 

MK: YES!!

RG: Yes! And also, The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord, which I just posted on my story yesterday, ‘cause I was thinking about Debord, and some French Marxists too. 

MK: So, the book is a processed version of your trap account on Insta that became a book! Beyond the account, where did you see that materiality going?

RG: I took the content of the account and wanted to recontextualize it into the form of a book. We’re so used to seeing these types of images right in front of our faces – on a screen – all day. Outside of that, [the book] is a way of reading the world around you. It’s subject matter that lives online! That’s so ingrained in our heads that we often don’t take the time to think about what we’re sharing or consuming. 

MK: There was a lot of personality within ‘FCKKDD.’ There’s also a lot of homies in the book. How did they feel to have that shout out in print?

RG: I don’t really know! A bunch of friends have seen the book in its earliest form when I made it three years ago. When I show it to them now, I get a lot of smiles. I think the content and just the nature of the book are both so overwhelming that people don’t even like when they see themselves in it, and they’re still processing all of the material in between that you have to go through, like on an online feed.

MK: If you could define that material in between, what is one word that you would use to define it?

RG: Ether.

MK: Ether – I love it. Did you know that not only is “ether” an imaginary space, but also a chemical? They used to use it back in the day as an anesthetic. I’m not super familiar with its structure, but I know it’s really bad for you. 

RG: Well, there you go. 

MK: The book feels like a really broken down time capsule for 2018. Why did you pick that year specifically?

RG: That’s a good question. I feel like the pain [of that year] was definitely an aspect to that. I also just happened to be in a class where I had free reign on what I wanted to create. I was trying to figure out a way to organize ‘FCKKDD’ in a way that made sense, and I also wanted to have a hard start and stop to the work. If there wasn’t that start and stop, the work becomes just like our feeds – it just keeps on going. Having a “year” was a good way to contain that set of work.

MK: Do you hope to make more collections? The side of the book says ‘Volume One’ and I’m trying to try to see another one…

RG: That’s kind of my intention. I mean, as you know, I still keep this ‘FCKKDD’ archive online and it’s an ongoing thing that I’ll do whenever I feel like it. I think the next one that I would do would be for the year 2020. It’s kind of obvious because we basically lived that entire year mediated through our technological tools, and most of our social interactions took place through the Internet. I want to look back at that, but I’m not really in a rush. I don’t really want to process that that year so soon.

MK: When you said 2020, it made me think back to Society of the Spectacle and the idea of the information highway, and the Agora, and how Debord made those connections with public space as a digital experience. With wanting a hard beginning and a hard stop, how would that translate into the layering that you used in the book? What are your opinions on time in that way?

RG: I did the layering and the collaging in the book as an aesthetic way to capture what it feels like to be in the internet. The “higher ups” have said Instagram is all clean lines and grids and you know, infinitely scrolling timelines, but it doesn’t feel that way for the most part. It can just feel like a disorganized sort of overstimulating experience of information, that’s never ending. I wanted to mimic that feeling. 

MK:  Logic question: is this the first physical book you’ve ever made in print?

RG: This is the first one that I’m putting out to the public. I made another book in 2017, that was just my photographs of my friends, and another for my project about Mecca. Books are my professional career right now. I work at a book publisher called Conveyor Studio in Jersey. It’s a cool spot, there’s only four of us in the shop. They have their own publishing label, and they do a lot of just on demand printing for museums and places like that.

MK: Bookbinding is fascinating! 

RG: It is! All 2020 I was still consuming content online, and that was what I posted during that time on my private account. That [reminds me of] one of the main questions that I posed for myself when I was making the book: how can you negotiate a personal experience against the idea of a collective consciousness, how might a stranger who doesn’t even know me be able to relate to the images based on content and subject matter? That [relationship] is ubiquitous, but then again, at the same time, it’s definitely a piece specific to it’s time.

MK: A lot of other artists right now put out self-defining work that is all identity politics, and you don’t do that at all, while building that relationship with the audience. It comes out in a lot of your other work too! I was going through my story archives earlier, and I remember when you had ‘Hajji’ at the Tisch windows for all of January and February and March…

RG: And April 😉

MK: This man said we got a four month run! How do you relate yourself in terms of those two projects – ‘Haajji’ and ‘FCKKDD’?

RG: That’s actually something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and most of my traditional photography work revolves around these two words: like social documentary in a sense. At the same time, I was thinking about documentary as a form and what exactly that means. Even though it (FCKKDD) doesn’t really have the defining features of what one might consider a documentary, it’s still very much an object, an artifact of smaller artifacts that connect to different people in society.

MK: Super leading question but: how do you feel about the Internet? It’s funny how the internet was started, you know, as this big democratic network, and now, Trump is banned on Twitter? How do you see that [shift]? 

RG: That’s something I think about almost every day when I’m at work. I guess it’s really just a big double-edged sword in a sense, because I, myself, when making this book, I wrote a 15 page paper about how memes are the single most democratic form of social critique that we have to this day. But then again, at the same time, the Internet has enabled a space of unparalleled consumerism and just enabled this sort of obliviousness, if you’re not careful. Then you have all the other stuff that goes along with it, like the rise of the far right and that weird space. 

MK: Yeah, because the Internet facilitates everyone, it facilitates everyone. And it (internet) also isn’t a neutral thing either. The internet can fit certain agendas which is probably my favorite aspect of the book. The object itself is that the one thing that unifies it. 

RG: Another question that I was asking myself was how does our relationship with these images and cultural obsessions change with time? Because there’s a lot in that book that now exists as a dated cultural object in a sense, because we don’t share those images. I was asking the question of what happens to these images that we move on from? I was scrolling on Twitter and there’s people talking about ancient memes, which just popped up today. Like the original Wojack faces, you know what I’m talking about? Just out of nowhere, those are coming back up after what, 10 years of meme progression?

MK: That says a lot about the importance of the archive, because something really old can take on a new meaning, where the old thing is extra-important because it’s really old. And now the Internet is speeding that up where even the book feels distinctly “2018” though 2018 was only three years ago.

RG: Yeah. It’s insane. It’s crazy.

MK: What is your favorite ancient meme and how did you feel about Pepe the frog censorship?

RG: I don’t even know if I have an opinion on that. With memes, how can a certain group of people hijack an image, you know? [Pepe] has been recontextualized so many times on 4chan and Reddit. I don’t know if you’re active on Discord, but some of the Discord groups I’m in all use Pepe. The second you look at it, it just brings up these associations that have kind of been ascribed to it, when at the end of the day, it’s a picture of a frog. It’s so weird how a seemingly meaningless image can hold such cultural weight.

MK: The power of the zeitgeist, and also the power of concealing something is exactly what ‘FCKKDD’ subverts. It also has a dual existence. It still is a private account,  and it is a [sold-out] book. Before you opened the book to the public, did anyone random who doesn’t follow the account see it?

RG: Yeah, actually. It’s a funny story. I brought the book to Dashwood about a [couple months] ago, and I was showing it to Miwa.  She was really into it, but they’re not taking in books right now. While I was showing it to her, this random man in the store just came up and entered the conversation. And he was like, “Oh, I’m actually working on a project about the Internet, your book seems like it’s right up that alley.” So I was like, “Yeah sure, you want to look at it?” And he was like “Sick, how much? I’ll buy it right now.” And then I sold it to him at Dashwood.

MK: So you subverted Dashwood at Dashwood.

RG: Yeah, exactly. I was like, “you got Cash App?” And that random person, I think his name is Dylan or something, got a copy of the book before I released it.

MK: Do you have a favorite style moment or time period? 

RG: Kiko Kostadinov, or Old Navy.

MK: Bro, Old Navy is the shit. I remember like three years ago everyone was trying to bring Gap back and I’m just like, nah nah nah. It’s all about $5 tees at Old Navy.

RG: When I was a kid my mom always used to get clothes for me from Old Navy. I used to hate it so much. And now I’m finding the sickest Old Navy objects on Depop and thrift stores. I was not with it back in the day.

MK: Should we be expecting any ‘FCKKDD’ clothing drops in the future or…?

RG: You know, maybe. It’s not something I’m thinking about, but that might be cool. I don’t know what I would do, but nothing’s off the table.

MK: “Weigh all the options, nothing’s off the table.

~ In Conversation with Lucia Bell

When Lucia Bell-Epstein shoots the food at work, she doesn’t just capture the finished product. She includes bits of the floor, takes portraits of the kitchen staff, and snaps pictures of ingredients in the boxes they arrived in. All of these come together to create a narrative. She doesn’t want to make things feel fake. Her photographic diligence made collecting images for this interview a breeze. She wants this to be the truth. She doesn’t want to make the experience she’s having aestheticized,  but instead show  appreciation for the space and the people she gets to work with. This is an homage to them, to the farmers, to everyone who is a part of where this food comes from and where it ends up.

Lucia Bell-Epstein is an artist from the Lower East Side in New York. She takes photos and cooks, connecting the two with intent and intimacy. Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke is a producer, curator, and editor from Sugar land, Texas. She sat down with Lucia a couple months to talk about community, what fruits are in season, and her experience cooking at LaLou.

Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke: How would you describe your professional and personal relationship with food?

Lucia Bell-Epstein: Dance. Intimate. It’s what I think about when I’m alone in bed at one in the morning, trying to fall asleep, looking up or writing down notes on my phone about things I want to try to make. Saving photos of dishes that inspire me. There is no boundary between the professional and intimate. I work at a restaurant. That environment is different than if I’m cooking at home with friends. The rigidness that comes with working shapes your relationship to food. In terms of time and space, and in terms of learning how to put out food that you would want to eat yourself.

Jay Wolman, chef @ Lalou

But at work, it’s chef Jay Wolman‘s food. I work at LaLou, a natural wine bar and restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Facilitating chef Jay’s ideas in a way that’s collaborative is really exciting. Say we make a citrus salad at work- when I go to the market on my own and see melons, kumquats or other winter citrus, I’m instantly inspired by what I’m doing at work. Those ingredients stick with me and it becomes intimate. I want to put my own twist on them.

LA: Do you have tips for people who want to incorporate fruit into their savory dishes?

LBE:

1. Mix fruit with olive oil and dairy, or something that bites, like a sharp lettuce. You could also take beets and pair them with a Clementine or some sort of blood orange. 

2. Slice apples on a mandolin and throw them into your favorite salad. See if you like that juicy, sweet taste. 

3. Baked apples, or poached pears and red wine. That’s delicious. You could take pears and poach them in a bottle of Malbec, and it’ll still be kind of sweet. Eat them with a piece of meat. That could be your side. 

It’s citrus season right now, which is crazy. I didn’t know that winter citrus was a thing until I got into food. 

LA: How do you know what’s in season?

LBE: I ask my mom, I ask chef Jay. I ask my friend Sam’s mom, Andrea. She knows everything about produce and the market. This morning we were recipe testing for her cookbook and she made confit kumquats. You submerge kumquats in olive oil and slowly bake them at 200-250 degrees for a few hours and they get nice and soft. You can eat them with literally anything; on breakfast with sour yogurt, or on a piece of toasted rye bread.

LA: What else is she putting in her cookbook? 

LBE: I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s from the perspective of a photographer, so aesthetically, it’s going to be gorgeous. She uses a lot of healthy ingredients that taste good, and a lot of Italian influence as well – farm to table vibes.

LA: How is cooking like making artwork?

LBE: It’s one in the same. One of the first things I observed working in the kitchen at Lalou was the idea of the dance; the physicality between chefs moving around seamlessly, sometimes without speaking. Building a salad is a total dance. You want to invite whoever’s eating your salad to taste the art in the way that you want them to. 

You know when you go on a date with someone and you’re fighting for that last bite of food with the most shaved Parmesan? Chef Jay always says to me that every bite of the food you put out should be like that. It’s just like if I’m taking a photograph, painting or drawing. I’m not gonna leave a quarter of surface lacking that kind of lust and lushness. 

LA: Could walk us through your plating process?

LBE: I’m such a new cook that I learn from watching. When I’m at home cooking for myself and my friends, I try to break lines of the plate or make things look a bit messy and realistic. The last thing I want is to cook something that is so perfect it feels unattainable. Food should be inviting. I think a little gem caesar salad plated with your hands can be just as inviting as something that was plated with tweezers.

My plating process depends on what I’m making, but height is something I strive for. I like things to be a bit glossy, so I like using olive oil to finish things. It makes everything look sexy. These are things I have learned from chef Jay and Andrea. 

I also love nights where I’m eating out of the pot. We’re young and don’t like doing the dishes all the time.

LA: Would you rather go on a dinner date or out for drinks?

LBE: Out on a date to get a nice meal. Even hotter than a dinner date; being invited over to cook dinner together.

LA:  In the kitchen, what does community mean?

LBE: It’s what I try to illustrate in the photos I take at LaLou.  The team I work with is quite small. 

I work with people that inspire me and change the way I think about food. Not many people can say that. In the kitchen, there are traditional hierarchies. I’m at the bottom of that totem pole because I just started working there, but it doesn’t feel that way. 

Whenever I’m photographing at the restaurant, it’s beautiful to watch how every person on the team has influenced and inspired the food that we put out.

Sitting after service and having a glass of wine with chef Jay and other cooks, listening to them talk about stuff that they want to make; it’s amazing. It’s a natural wine bar, too. I’m learning about orange wines and how to make food pairings with alcohol. Community-wise, it feels like a small family. 

LA: How do you build trust in that environment? 

LBE: I had to prove my work ethic and my seriousness to myself and the rest of the team. We have fun, but it’s serious work. It’s physically and mentally demanding. Trust was built through the feeling that my coworkers accepted me for who I am, despite the fact that I’m still learning.

Rather than going home feeling weighted and anxious from whatever mistakes I’ve made, I go home feeling inspired to do better. Not for myself, but for the team. Trust is an unspoken result of that. 

LA: What’s the difference between cooking with friends and cooking at work?

LBE: At work, I’m cooking the dishes that we serve, which are the dishes by chef Jay. At home, it’s my own intellectual property; I can do whatever I want. xI’m so excited to go to work and talk about what I cooked in my free time.

At work, there’s consistency.  Every chicory salad I make will look a little different, but they all have to taste the same. Learning about new ingredients, I get all of that at work too. I’m still growing as a cook and learning how to plate in new dance formations.

LA: What are three of your favorite color combinations?

LBE: I made this chocolate maple tart that was topped with toasted Sicilian pistachios with my friend Hedi. There’s a tan crust next to chocolate brown ganache. It’s finished with bright green pistachios with a pinkish purple hue.

As spring comes, I want to work with more green. I’m thinking about asparagus, wild arugula, leeks and green garlic, which will be sprouting up soon.

There’s a lot you can do with the color white; buttery, brothy cannellini beans with ribbons of pecorino….

LA: How do you come up with color combinations? Do you test things together visually?

LBE: It’s less about color combinations, and more about ingredient combinations. I’m not planning the color palette of things I want to make. I’m newly into beets. At work we made this salad with beets and shaved Humboldt fog, a type of cheese. The texture was amazing. There was the crunchiness, the green leaves, the white snowy humboldt fog with blue ash running through the middle. Then you have a glossy, tender, juicy beet dripping onto the side of the white plate and dying the lettuce. It’s finished with a bit of olive oil. When you take a bite into it, all those colors, textures, and flavors come together.

LA: Our hunger impulse is so associated with color.

LB: Oh totally. When I shoot the food at work, I’m trying to kind of zoom out and document everything from another perspective, not just cooking with the food or handling the ingredients. I really like including bits of the floor, other human beings, hands holding things or shooting within the containers of the ingredients. All of these come together to create a narrative. I don’t want to make things feel fake. I want my photos to show what we do at Lalou. I want this interview, like what I’m explaining to you, to be the truth. I don’t want to make the experience I am having there be aestheticized in my work that I’ve shot there, but rather my appreciation for my space there and the people I get to work with. It’s an homage to the farmers, I’m considering where this food comes from and who’s growing it

LA: Why should people have a relationship with their food from start to finish?

LBE: The first thing that comes to mind Canal Cafeteria. You can go to their produce stand and get free groceries. They’re community-building in the Lower East Side, where I grew up. It’s great to see people in my generation taking initiative like that. 

Now more than ever, we need to know where our food is coming from, what we’re putting into our bodies, and how we can buy things that support small businesses and local economies. People make the argument that it’s cheaper to get pre-packaged food but there are ways to buy healthy, fresh ingredients without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money. Invest in what you put into your body.

LA: Self-love. 

LBE: There’s nothing that releases more endorphins for me than cooking for myself. You learn so much about yourself, what you like and what you don’t like. It’s a labor of love.

LA: Ben made the analogy between ordering food vs. cooking at home being like swiping on Tinder vs. meeting someone in real life.

LBE: Part of growing up is learning how to nourish yourself.

LA: What traits make someone easy to work with in the kitchen?

LBE: We all have bad days and get moody, myself included. Keeping that outside of the professional environment is critical to being a part of a team. If one person’s feeling off, everybody else feels it. It’s how it is in any work environment. 

What makes it easy to work with someone? Being a good listener and teacher. Everyone I work with is easy to work with because they all love what they’re doing. If I was working in some corporate job with people that hated their work, it would be a very different environment. At Lalou, every person in the kitchen is passionate about food and cooking. If you go there and eat the food, you’re tasting their hard work. They care. That in itself is art.