This interview with the publication Yeni Hayat took place in 2008. It was a discussion on the background to the creation of my first book “Imagine Istanbul: The Search for the Little Boy of Istanbul.”
YH: For what purpose did you go to Turkey the first time in 2003?
Hernández: I was a tourist. I wanted to take photos. Turkey/Istanbul was new for me. I was exploring. All this was artistic for me, to create something new. This was a sort of search for identity. It was my quest. It was a search for identity. I don’t know. Maybe I was seeking my own identify in a faraway place.
YH: When did you first take pictures of the young boy?
Hernández: In 2003. After taking photos all day of Istanbul, at the end of the day I encountered a little boy shining shoes at the Yeni Cami Mosque in the Eminonu neighborhood of Istanbul. He looked about nine or ten years old. He worked like an adult, meticulously polishing the shoes of customers. I watched him for a while while he was working. I approached him, but he was afraid of me. The photos were the best I’ve ever taken capturing an emotion in a face. He had beautiful eyes, but there was such fear and suffering in those eyes. I only took three pictures of the little boy.
I went back to Istanbul six months later with the sole purpose to find the boy and give him the photographs I had taken. I thought maybe he had no photos of himself. I didn’t know his name, his language, his address, but I had this goal in my mind, to find him again to give the photos. The poem evolved from the story of my search for the little boy. He became “the little boy of Istanbul.” I felt such a connection to this young child.
YH: When did you become aware of his identity?
Hernández: When I was searching in the area around the Yeni Cami mosque where I had originally met the boy, I stopped for tea at a nearby cafe. I showed the waiter the photos and asked if he knew the boy and where I could find him. The waiter told me that he did know the boy, that he was Kurdish, and that the boy and his father were from Erzurum, a city in eastern Anatolia (Asian Turkey).
That’s when I learned the identity of this child. I didn’t know anything about the Kurdish people beforehand. Istanbul was very new and fascinating for me. It is an artistically inspiring city. It was the first time I had seen mosques, women wearing headscarves, or been exposed to a Muslim culture. Anyways, my search for the little boy became the basis for the poem. It took me three days to find him in a city of almost ten million people and I think that’s an astounding achievement in itself because I didn’t know anything about the child or where he lived. And everyone was so interested to see the photos and try to help find the boy.
Read the rest of this interview in the book Imagine Istanbul: The Search for the Little Boy of Istanbul.