An Istanbul Airport Stopover; Photographing the Sleepers – by Simon King

I recently spent about eight hours in Istanbul during a stopover between my flights from Bulgaria to my onward travel to the United States. I made it into the terminal at just after midnight, and needed to find some way to fill the time before my next plane was due to fly at 8:35am.

Most of the kiosks were open, and it was quite crowded. I had some food and walked around the lower level, then the upper level. It was slow going as I had my large carry on bag, but worth it. The momentum kept me awake, and I wanted to wait to try and sleep on the plane so that I could reset to Eastern Standard Time and not need to adjust during my first few days.

Some of the design decisions in the airport seem to have been made to encourage people to not be able to sleep. Couches with rigid arms, and curves which make lying in any position other than contorted a difficult feat. What stood out to me was the ingenuity by which some of these contortions were occurring, and I knew I had found my mini project for the time.

I walked slowly around photographing all the sleepers, and people at rest, in their odd positions. Some lay on top of the couch backs, others folded themselves over the arms. Some simply lay on the floor.

The premier lounges and airport hotel were fully booked I discovered, which explained why so many were simply accepting their far-from-cozy fate.

This is definitely an idea I can revisit; I’ve wanted to have a small project I can call on when travelling, and these scenes in such a relatively short time, have laid a decent groundwork.I shot these with my M6, 50mm f/2, and HP5+.

Thanks for reading! If you want to stay up to date with my projects, follow me on Instagram! I buy all my film from Analogue Wonderland.

Editors note:

After publishing this article we received an email from Istanbul airport who very graciously informed us of all of the options there are in and around the airport for people to catch up with a bit of sleep/rest. As such, we just wanted to point out that this article was in no way meant as a criticism of the airport or available facilities.

Istanbul airport told us that they do indeed offer respite facilities including “Sleepod” units within the terminal and a nap-zone area which are free of charge. They also have a YOTEL very nearby. They are also planning to locate a number of “Capsule Hotels” but these plans were suspended due to covid. They also said that do prefer customers to use the sleeping facilities as the areas pictured can get very busy with around 90 million passengers travelling through these areas in a normal year.

You can find more about the airport and the facilities on thier website here.

Thanks for reading.


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10 thoughts on “An Istanbul Airport Stopover; Photographing the Sleepers – by Simon King”

  1. Shubroto Bhattacharjee

    What a delightful essay, Simon!
    In many airports, photography is forbidden. I’m thankful that Istanbul is not one of these.
    Human ingenuity clearly knows no limits!

    1. Thanks so much, really glad you liked it! I’ve never had an issue with photographing in Airports; maybe the small camera, or maybe my approach? and I’m sure many things are forbidden – but consequences are just a matter of getting caught! 😉 With humanistic photography better to get forgiveness than permission most of the time!

      1. Castelli Daniel

        I was going to inquire about the same thing…airport security. Here in the US, you can’t take pics of security areas. This can be widely interpreted as the any pic within the walls. Also, hiring private security firms can lead to overzealous
        ‘Fake cops’ overreacting to their authority.
        When you’re hired to look for problems, then you see problems.
        But, great shots. Well done.

        1. It’ll always be case by case depending on the photographer and what they’re up against. Always worth a try!
          Thanks, glad you liked the images 🙂

  2. Hello Simon, what an innovative project!!
    For me, this has brought into sharp focus (pun intended) the lack of customer care at airports. I’ve been there, done it, got the tee shirt, but always as a paying customer whose expectations (…”I just want to go from A to B”…) have not been met!
    The message you convey is far more powerful and relevant than what camera, lens or film you have used. The power of photography, eh! Thanks.

  3. Just after 9/11 I was on an official tour of SFO. I asked about photography, but was told it was fine. I’ve had more problems at railway stations, and shopping malls in both the UK and USA!

  4. This set of images reminds me of photos of World War II front line soldiers sleeping just about anywhere between marching and fighting.

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