First Friday photography book tribute to downtown night life

From the original article in the Star-Advertiser by Gary C.W. Chun

Photographer Omer Kursat has made it a point to try not to stand out in a crowd.

You can see his low-key point of view in his work, either currently on display at The Manifest in Chinatown or, more specifically, Friday night at his book release party at thirtyninehotel, just across the street from The Manifest.

The lively Chinatown social scene during First Friday has been Kursat's playground for about five years now, and the title of his slim photo book, "Over the Pali, 2:00 a.m., No Pork," states the usual place, time and occult precaution he takes as he leaves the lively Chinatown night scene after the bars close and heads for his Windward home.

Born in Istanbul, Turkey, and arriving in Hawaii 17 years ago after a stint in Los Angeles, Kursat said he and his wife, Dee, originally came to the islands to visit his wife's sister and fell in love with the islands.

"My day job is being a systems analyst developer," he said, "but I've been a photographer ever since high school. My dad was a journalist, and I remember growing up with photographers and reporters during the time we lived in the small port city of Izmir."

Kursat said he didn't get serious about his photography until 2005, when his work placed well in Honolulu magazine contests.

What has distinguished Kursat's work from others' is that he uses what's called a panoramic camera loaded with 1600-speed 35 mm film.

"The camera allows me to get close to my subjects, so much so that I become part of the scene. I use Costco to develop my film since there's no room at my home for a darkroom, but after processing I scan and digitize the photos on my computer. As you can see by how skinny my book is, I reproduce the photos in their original aspect ratio."

Kursat said he purposefully doesn't compose his images. "I just position myself into the scene and wait a little until the time feels right."

The camera he uses is the Russian-made Horizon mechanical swing-lens panoramic camera. "It rotates 120 degrees. You just wind it up, crank the lens and press the shutter button when you're ready.

"The photos it takes give the scene a different depth, and with the 1600-speed film I use, I open the lens as much as possible to use the available light without using a flash," he said. "My photos come from a candid perspective and are very personal to me."

The impressionistic pictures that result represent the allure of Honolulu's urban social scene.

"In a way they're ‘still-moving pictures,' as the aspect ratio is at such a wide angle that the eyes tend to wander in the frame since there are so many things going on."

The 80-page book was one that Kursat said he wanted "to share it with the homies here. I didn't want it to be a coffee-table book. I wanted to keep it affordable.

"More than being just a documentary of the scenes and locations (in Chinatown), the book is a glimpse of a personal vision of many nights of hanging out in town, using Hotel Street as the base. The book is dedicated to all those who come out to work and to play at night."