The beauty of Oman's traditions through the lens of the traveler
Ali, get acquainted! Please, tell us more about yourself to our readers.
I was born in Bursa, Turkey. I moved to Istanbul for my studies in 1999 and living there since then. I felt so lucky to be able to live in such a vibrant city that offers a lot to discover, but even Istanbul was not sufficient after a while. I started travelling in Turkey and abroad and my camera was always with me. Having graduated with a PhD in Computer Engineering in 2015, together with my girlfriend I set on a 21-month long trip in Asia to explore and get to know different cultures. Now I am still trying to adapt back to normal daily routines after such long, slow but intense travelling.
What circumstances led you to Vilnius?
I still live in Istanbul, but I have been visiting Vilnius many times since 2010. Vilnius is a perfect cure for the tiredness of a metropolis. It is beautiful, calm and full of history and nature.
Tell us more, how and when you got interested in photography? When you made your first shot?
I don’t remember when I took my first photos, but for me photography evolved together with travelling. As I travelled more, as I explored further, my hunger for photography increased. From technical perspective, a milestone for me is my interest in night sky and astronomy. When I reached remote places without light pollution (yes, unfortunately due to light pollution it is not possible to enjoy the night sky in or around cities) and see the real beauty of the night sky, I got interested in photographing it. This technically challenging task helped me to better understand and use my photography equipment and motivated me to look for more advanced gear.
I checked your Instagram, and the dominant theme is nature and animals. Is that what you love to photograph the most?
I love observing life. Plants, animals, mankind, earth, stars, whole universe; all are part of the life around us that we interact with. Long term and slow travelling gave me an opportunity to become a better observer of the life around me. I try to photograph a particular moment that is telling a story from life. During my trip, I had many encounters with animals as part of people’s daily lives or traditions, as well as in tourism industry. I concluded that when tourism and in particular money is involved, there is animal abuse associated. Even if it seems innocent, I recommend thinking twice before taking part in any touristic activity involving animals while travelling. I realized photographing animals in their context is giving them a chance to “speak“.
Let‘s talk about your exhibition which is happening now in Vilnius „The charm of Omani traditions“. How the idea to make an exhibition in Vilnius was born?
Right after returning from the trip in Asia, I learned that the Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO provides an opportunity for artists to exhibit their works in the Commission’s Gallery at the hearth of the old town. I thought it would be a perfect place to share my impressions on traditional celebrations in Oman before and during the Feast of Sacrifice. My exhibition proposal on traditional camel and horse racing events that are under consideration by UNESCO for the eventual inscription to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was accepted. The exhibition was opened on the 17th of May and it will remain open till the 14th of June in the Gallery of Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO. This is my very first photography exhibition.
What is the main idea you want to communicate through your exhibition?
With this exhibition, I aim to introduce the audience to Oman, its culture, centuries-old traditions and hospitable people. Through the photos, I share my observations from Oman hoping that the audience can grasp at least a bit of the charm and beauty of Oman.
How you got interested in Arab countries and their traditions? Is it the first Arab country you visited?
Religion strongly affects culture and traditions, but it is not the only factor. I am interested in Muslim majority countries including Arab countries, since they give me an opportunity to identify and compare the effect of earlier religious, political and geographical factors on similar traditions that we have in Turkey. Before the start of ongoing civil war, I travelled also in Syria for around 10 days in 2010. It was an amazing experience thanks to the hospitality of local people. It is so painful to witness the sufferings of the people of Syria. I hope the conflicts end, and Syria lives in peace soon.
During our trip, I was having a connecting flight via Bahrain and decided to use the chance to visit the city at least for 2 hours. This short visit was sufficient to experience the warmness of the people. I don’t have a specific plan yet, but I would be glad to visit Bahrain for a longer duration.
Tell me about your experience in Oman. What adventures have you experienced?
Being a modern country, Oman is still greatly governed by the centuries-old traditions in nearly every aspect of life. The people of Oman are proud of their customs and traditions. They are kind, open-minded and extremely hospitable. Whether in towns or villages, people were warmly welcoming me at their home treating with traditional Omani coffee (kahwa), locally grown dates and traditional dessert (halwa), eagerly sharing stories about their customs and everyday life.
To explore more remote parts of Oman, we travelled with a rented 4WD (four-wheel drive) car for 28 days. We were intending to camp in remote places, but on the very first night, I almost sat down on a huge scorpion. Even though we haven’t seen any more scorpions throughout the trip, in remote places with no accommodation options we preferred to sleep in the car. We also stayed in a castle one night, but this was not a “castle hotel” that you can book online. We happened to visit one of many beautiful castles of Oman towards the closing time. The care taker kindly invited us to taste Omani coffee and dates. Since it was at a remote location, he was concerned about our accommodation for the night and proposed us to stay in the castle. After a bit of hesitation, we accepted his kind offer. As instructed, we locked the door from inside after he left and enjoyed the nicely illuminated castle. I am not sure if I should disclose it, but the room in the yard of the castle has a secret communication mechanism. There is a small hole on the outer side of the castle wall in which you can whisper, and your message will be delivered to the room where we stayed. This was used as our castle’s “wakeup service”!
What are your future plans and goals? Maybe you're going to arrange another exhibition?
Before setting on another trip, I have tons of photos / videos to process from the last one. That’s a short-term goal which may lead to some other photo exhibitions. Particularly for Vilnius, I have a project idea related to Turkey. Time will show if I am able to realize it.
What is your motto and/or wishes to our readers?
Do travel! And do it slowly and responsibly!