A FEW WORDS FOR JOSEPHINE
Some of you already know the passing of my long time mentor and dear friend Josephine Powell.
For those of you who never met her, here is a photograph of her I took in 1982:
She was born in 1919.
There was a memorial service for her today in Istanbul; below are those few words I delivered there.
I thought it was telling, and in a sense beautiful, that no one spoke at the burial ceremony for Josephine. It was as if everyone knew that it was impossible to capture her in a few words. Perhaps no human being can be captured in a few words, but her friends there were distinctly aware that this was especially the case for Josephine.
The day after her burial, I tried to find a place where I could gather my thoughts about her and found a spot where I could view the old city, a spot which offered a view not unlike the one she enjoyed so much from her apartment. As I watched the profile of old Istanbul, I became increasingly aware of how much the intricacy, the complexity, and the beauty of the profile of old Istanbul was like the personality of Josephine. Neither one could be grasped easily, and they both offered something grand at the first sight, which dissolved into incredibly varied, diverse and fascinating details when you started looking closely.
Because the tapestry of her life was so rich and expansive, it often seemed like Josephine started her stories in the middle. Listening to them, you would find her (and yourself) in the Himalayas accompanying Buddhist pilgrims, with rope makers in Morocco, in a tea house in Herat, on the small terrace of an apartment in old Rome...
I started hearing these stories in 1974 when I was 10 years old, first in her apartment in Vezneciler, then in Samanyolu Sokak, and later in Cihangir. I would often want to connect the dots between the individual stories. Asking more questions, however, would provoke more stories and more dots to connect. The epic breadth of her experiences on the one hand, and their extremely human content on the other, would give me a kind of a rush in the head.
When I try to grasp the bafflingly rich tapestry of her life, one singular pattern keeps leaping at me, and that is Josephine's laughter. Josephine laughed when she really liked and enjoyed something. She had a unique spiky laugh and her laughter would be followed by her saying "marvelous," which she uttered in a way that tapered off gently. With a smile still lingering on her face, she would reach for her cigarette roller, and there would be a small silence, then she would start talking and commenting, and it would go on…
This sense of deep enjoyment and fascination with detail emanates from her photographs, which are always all about the subject matter, with absolutely no elements calling attention to herself as the photographer, or the photographic process itself. Whether it were stunningly dressed Kurdish women in Eastern Turkey, an unkempt dervish roaming the mountains, or a lonely and exquisite tower rising in a valley in Afghanistan, it was her absolute commitment to the subject matter, and more importantly her unbound fascination with its details and beauty that made her photographs so calm and so gripping at once.
With Josephine's passing, and so many thoughts and memories spinning in my head, my mind is drawn to Ariel's disarming song from The Tempest:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Corals and pearls are Josephine's photographs, an epic collection she created over sixty years; she transformed her life into them, and she lives through them now.
Her influence will make this world a better place.