THE BIG EYE


MEHMET ZAMAN SAÇLIOĞLU

THE BIG EYE

 

A man asked a girl who was waiting at a crosswalk, “Would you have your picture taken with me?”

“I beg your pardon?” she said in amazement.

“I mean … I said, would you have your picture taken with me?”

“Are you nuts?” snapped the girl as she started out across the street.

The man stuck his hands into his pockets and glanced around to see how many people had witnessed the incident. Right then he noticed a pretty young girl approaching slowly from a distance, and he began walking decisively in her direction. Just as the girl looked up, realizing that the man was standing directly in her path, he said to her: “I’m sorry to disturb you, and it may sound strange to you, but would you have your picture taken with me?”

The girl started to look around her, then waved to a young man waiting at the far corner of the avenue and said, “Excuse me, but my fiancé is waiting for me,” and slipped away from the man, walking quickly toward the young man awaiting her on the other side.

The man walked quickly in the opposite direction and entered a side street that crossed the avenue.

In order to disappear for a while, he had taken a bus three nights ago without letting anybody know and had come to this small town a few hundred kilometers from the city where he lived. He’d rented a room in one of the small second-class hotels under an assumed name and, with the help of a sleeping pill, slept for fourteen hours straight to free himself of the stress that he was under.

When he woke up, he had a headache. He got dressed, walked around a little and tried to assess the changes that had occurred in this small town since his visit several years before. Upon finding that the two restaurants and the small diner he’d frequented on his former visit were still there, he murmured happily to himself , “How nice, nothing has changed!”

The next day, however, extending his route a little further from the hotel and the restaurants, he said in surprise, “Gosh! How quickly this town has grown!”

After a couple of hours walking along the main avenue, he felt that someone was watching him from the other side of the street; his hand wandered across his jacket to the back of his pants where a gun was stuck in his belt. He hesitated and looked around carefully only to discover that what was watching him was the picture of an eye in a shop window. This big eye seemed alive. Although he walked about fifty meters further, the eye was still focused on him. There was a crosswalk not far in front of him, but instead of going to the corner, he jaywalked from where he was, and shook his fist at a driver who honked at him for going against the traffic. A few more steps and he was standing in front of the shop window with the eye. It was a photographer’s studio. In this large window were many pictures, some side-by-side, some above and below one another, and others intentionally displayed at an angle, all arranged with the greatest care. At the center of the display was the picture of a giant eye. Upon closer look, the man became fascinated. This large eye had been created from many small eyes all cut out of a thousand, perhaps ten thousand snapshots and glued together to create one large eye; these thousands of eyes in a multitude of colors were set together so skillfully that you felt the giant eye staring right at you with every detail of the iris, the pupil, the white, the curving lid, and the eyelashes. The man examined the eye carefully and then noticed a sign in the corner of the window:

“Have your snapshot taken at our store and claim your spot in the big eye.”

After hesitating a moment, the man pushed open the door and entered. The photographer, retouching a picture under the magnifying glass, glanced up at the man, smiled and said, “Welcome, Sir.”

The man gave a cursory nod and asked, “Are you the one who made this picture?”

“Yes,” said the photographer, “the eyes of nearly everyone in this town are in it. Ever since I got the idea of creating this eye, everybody in town has been coming to me to have their photographs taken. And as soon as I collect a certain number of pictures, I add them to the photograph and make the eye even bigger. I’m lucky it’s not in a big city; otherwise the entire window would not suffice.”

“I need pictures, too,” the man said with a studied air of indifference.

“OK, let’s take a pose,” the photographer said. “Why don’t you go behind that screen; there are some ties there. You can choose any color — unless, of course, you want a sporty look.”

The man chose a black tie to go with the black jacket he was wearing. “That black tie doesn’t go well,” the photographer said. “Try that red striped one.”

So the man switched to the red tie, knotted it, and sat down on the stool that the photographer  pointed to. Irritated by the three bright lamps that were turned on one after the other, he squinted his eyes.

The photographer approached him, saying, “Just relax, turn your head a little to the left and bend it slightly forward,” and positioned his head with his hands. The man posed as the photographer asked him to and held the position. The photographer then asked him to smile. The man tried to smile, but the photographer again said, “Smile a little bit.”

“I am smiling! How much more can a person smile?” the man replied harshly.

“Soften your glance, think of things you like, look a bit tender,” said the photographer, but there was not much of a change on the man’s face.

The photographer muttered to himself, “Here’s another one of these guys who don’t know how to smile, God grant his family patience,” and said to the man one last time, “I am taking the picture now, smile,” and released the shutter.

As soon the picture had been taken, the man stood up, took off the tie, opened his top shirt button and tugged at his collar. When they’d returned to the front of the store, the photographer asked, “How many pictures do you want?”

The man asked what the price was for six and for twelve and decided on twelve.

“They’ll be ready by tomorrow afternoon,” the photographer said with a smile, expecting the man to pay.

“I’ll pay when I pick them up,” he said and headed for the door. Just as he was about to open the door, he turned and inquired, “Would you be willing to sell me this big eye?”

“No way. That’s become the symbol of this shop,” the photographer said.

“Then how about making another one for me?” the man insisted.

The photographer, as he wanted to get rid of this man as soon as possible, said, “I can’t do that, I don’t have that many pictures on hand right now,” and sat back down at his retouching stand.

The man hesitated for a moment. “Well what if you made multiple copies of my pictures and put them together?”

“That won’t work,” said the photographer. “What makes this eye seem alive is the combination of many eyes at once. It’s the shadow and the light that create the overall effect.”

The man wasn’t prepared to leave. He kept insisting. “I’m sure that you have at least a couple of snapshots on hand now. What if you just reproduce them along with mine? I’ll pay you whatever it costs.”

By now the photographer was getting irritated. “I can’t just give the pictures of my clients to other people without them knowing about it. How would you like it if I gave your picture to just anybody who asked for it?”

The man retreated in face of this sudden attack and answered hurriedly, “Of course not, it wouldn’t be right. Have a nice day, see you tomorrow.” He opened the door and left, but before the photographer had even finished his work on the picture he was retouching, the door opened again. The same man, with an agitated expression on his face, entered again.

“How many photographs do you need?” he asked. “I mean, photographs of how many different people?”

The photographer was puzzled. He hesitated, and then said, “At least three.” Looking the man in the eye, he went on: “Your eyes are brown. If we use your eyes as the darkest color, we also need a pair of  hazel-colored eyes and another in blue or green, as the medium and light colors.”

“So you can make me a big eye if I get you pictures of eyes in those colors?”

“No, I can’t. I don’t need pictures of eyes but people with eyes of those colors. I have to take their pictures so that I can control the expression in their eyes. The timing in the release of the shutter is very important. If I don’t get the proper facial expression, the resulting picture won’t be of any use.”

“I could bring you as many photos as you like in a couple of days, and, if it would be of any help to you, I could cut the eyes out of the pictures and get them ready for you. Or look, I have an even better idea. I could cut the eyes, lips and noses out of a couple of thousand pictures and bring them to you. You can make a big nose out of the noses, a big lip out of the lips and a big eye out of the eyes. I can bring you so many pictures that you can also make a big nose and a big lip for yourself out of them. How about that?”

The photographer was irritated. He had never seen such a lack of consideration before. With a very serious expression on his face he replied, “Listen mister, you haven’t got the idea. The photograph of a big nose made out of many noses wouldn’t smell any better. The picture of a big lip, made out of thousands of lips, wouldn’t speak or kiss better. This is something particular to the eye. A big eye, which is made up of many eyes put together, sees better than the thousands of eyes that create it. This is why the more different eyes there are within the big eye, the richer and sharper becomes its sight and, believe me or not, more mobile, too. In order to make you forget this idea, I have to tell you another secret. There couldn’t possibly be anyone else as crazy as I am to cut out thousands of little eyes and paste them together. How many eyes do you think there are making up the big one in the window that’s impressed you so much? I can tell you: There are thirteen thousand four hundred and sixty-five of them. I know the exact number because on the back of each snapshot there’s a number.

“It might be on the front.”

“But it’s on the back. The number I’ve given your photograph today is thirteen thousand five hundred and thirty. How many does that leave?”

“I’m no good with figures.”

“I’ll tell you: only sixty-five. There are sixty-four — not counting yourself. The eyes of sixty-four people just did not fit in anywhere in the big eye. No matter what I did, I couldn’t fit them in. I got fed up and just tried to squeeze them in, figuring that no one would notice the difference from a distance. Would you believe it, they each looked like a tear, or a piece of dust or sand stuck in the eye. I had to pick them off before the eye looked healthy again. I’ll check yours tomorrow. Do not be angry with me if yours doesn’t fit in either. Believe me, if I can find a place to paste you in, I will, and gladly; I’d be honored by your contribution to the big eye.”

The man had finally begun to grasp what the photographer was explaining to him and appeared deep in thought. Then he said crossly,  “But didn’t you tell me that three eyes are enough?”

“Yes, that’s the minimum for a healthy look. One eye is not enough, as it’s only one single color. The second eye makes a contrast with the first, no matter how close the colors are. The third one both connects and separates them, and at the same time, adds a certain vividness to the eye. But this is only valid in regard to the nuances of color. It does not apply to eyes with a bad look like the 64 I mentioned. This is why the people who agree to contribute to your big eye should have different eye colors and a look that is similar to yours.”

“I see,” said the man. “I think I’ll be able to find a couple of people who fit me.”

That afternoon, he approached a group of high school students who were hanging around and joking among themselves and asked them to have their pictures taken with him. The kids were scared and ran off. Later, he asked a couple who were walking hand in hand and eye to eye, old people chatting with each other in the park, a middle-aged couple shopping with their children, a loafer sitting on the sidewalk watching the passers-by, insisting that they come with him, but all refused. In the evening, after all the stores had closed, he had dinner in one of his restaurants and, feeling down about having to spend three more days in this town where he had no friends, he wandered through the empty streets, before returning to his hotel late that night to fall asleep.

The next day, he definitely had to find someone, at least two people who would suit him.

But that morning also, the two girls whom he found worthy of asking had both refused to have their pictures taken with him.

Now he only hoped that the second girl’s fiancé had not noticed him, as he would not be able to make anyone believe the innocence of his request. He wandered around aimlessly for a while. At another street corner, he saw a man sitting in front of a garden wall. This man, with his head raised towards the sky in thought, had extraordinarily beautiful blue eyes. As he approached, he froze at what the man was saying. “Alms for the blind…” He could not believe that these wonderful eyes could not see. He moved his hand quickly back and forth in front of the man’s face. Yes, the man was really blind; yet he looked as if he could see. He shoved his hand in his pocket and pulled out a coin, then changed his mind and said to the man: “I will pay you well if you’ll just have your photograph taken with me.”

But the blind beggar was afraid. He took hold of the wall; he pulled himself up and started to walk with one hand against the wall.

“Stop!” the man said, and then whispered something in his ear. The blind man didn’t seem to know what to do. Quite obviously he was frightened as the other man squeezed his arm tightly with his fingers. “All right,” he agreed in a low voice.

The man took the blind beggar by the arm and they started to walk together. When they entered the photographer’s, the man said, “Here, I’ve brought you someone. A friend who will have his picture taken with me.”

But the photographer looked upset. He said to the beggar, “Welcome, ‘Quiet One’”

The man was surprised and asked, “Do you know him?”

“Who wouldn’t?” said the photographer. “He has the most beautiful blind eyes in the world. Do you know how many magazines have had his eyes on the cover? He talks very little, which is why everybody calls him ‘Quiet One.’ ”

Then he turned to the blind man and said, “This gentleman wants to have his picture taken with you, to have me make a big eye out of the eyes of the two of you. Do you remember the one I told you about…the one on my window? Is it OK?”

The man thought that he had gotten himself into a bad situation and that the blind man wouldn’t agree and would say that he’d been forced into the store. He became very tense.

The blind man said, “I don’t care. Take it if he wants you to. It seems to mean a lot to him. But first I’d like to wash my face.”

The man relaxed; he didn’t say anything more. Now the photographer was in charge. He seated the blind man, straightened his clothes and said,

“Pose like you have before.”

The blind man asked, “Like this?”

“Exactly. Smile.”

The man watched without knowing what was going on. He didn’t even try to understand. He didn’t talk at all. He took the blind man to the door after the picture was taken and handed him some money. The blind man returned the money and said, “I don’t take money in return for my services,” and left.

The man put the money in his pocket.

The photographer said to the man, “I need to ask you something.”

“Go ahead,” said the man coldly.

“Do you really want that big eye to see you? I mean, to have it watching you?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because if you don’t want it to watch you, these two eyes will suffice. One of them will be your own, the other the eye of a blind man. The combination of these two cannot watch you. In fact, according to the proportion I use, it could be half blind, so that you will be able to see it but it will not be able to see you.”

The man considered this for a while. “I’ll hang the picture in my room, right across from where I usually sit. Actually, I shouldn’t like being watched — especially when I am sitting at home. As a matter of fact, I liked the one in your window first, and then changed my mind. That one sees too much.”

Then he asked, “But you told me that you needed three. Are two enough for you?”

The photographer felt he owed the man another explanation. “I’ll try out a new technique with your big eye. In photography we call it the sandwich method. We superimpose one negative over the other and make a print of them. For example, when you print a negative of a fish and one of the sea, the fish gets put into the sea and creates a new image. This does not exactly look like a real photograph but expresses the relationship between a fish and the sea better than a real photograph. Have I made my point?”

“No.”

“Another example. Now, if we take a photograph of your hand, opened like that, and put the negative of that hand over the negative of a gun taken somewhere else and print them together, what will we get? A gun in a palm. But the dark and light nuances of the films would penetrate so much into each other that the gun would not look like it was just in the hand but more as if it had melted into the hand, become a part of its cells. If you cut such a photograph with scissors, you cannot take the hand and the gun apart. It’s not really a photograph of a hand holding a gun, but it expresses the strong relationship between the hand and the gun better than a real photo. Does that explain it?”

“Yes, I see. Is that how you are going to print these eyes?” asked the man.

“Yes, exactly,” said the photographer. “I’ll make the pictures of your eye and the eye of that blind man the same size, place one over the other and print them together. So, you will have a half-seeing eye. It won’t disturb you at all when you sit around, but you can look at it as much as you like. You know, just like these windows that are mirrored on one side. But there may be one problem. Before I print the photographs of the two of you, I won’t know which one is the seeing eye and which one the blind. As I said before, the instant of shooting the picture is so brief that you may catch a blind moment of a seeing person or the look of a blind one that looks right through you. We’ll have a look together tomorrow.”

The man said, “All right, I’ll be back tomorrow,” and left.

That night he slept very well and couldn’t remember any of his dreams in the morning. After strolling about here and there until the afternoon, he made his way to the photographer’s shop. The photographer must have finished his job because he was sitting and talking with a friend. On seeing the man enter, he went to the dark room at the rear and came back with a huge art board.

“It turned out quite well. I’ve glued it on a board for you so it won’t tear. And here are your photos. I’ve written the price on the envelope,” he said as he turned the big picture toward the man. For a few minutes the man gazed at this strange, empty-looking eye, nearly a meter high.

“All right, I like it. It looks as if it is looking at me and at the same time as if it isn’t looking. It won’t disturb me.”

He counted out the money from what he had in his pocket and placed it on the counter, murmured something like goodbye, stuck the cartoon under his arm and left the shop.

After he’d gone, the photographer’s friend commented, “So that was the guy — he’s exactly like you described him. But if he finds out that it’s only his eye in the photograph, that the eye of ‘Quiet One’ is not included, he’s liable to give you some trouble.”

The photographer laughed as if there were no chance of this possibly happening. “I tried to print them together but they didn’t fit with each other. The eye of ‘Quiet One’ looked as if it could see, while the eye of the man looked so empty. The only thing to do was to decrease the sharpness and print only his eye, which I did. I don’t think he’ll ever figure out that it’s only his eye in the picture. He can’t even see well enough to figure that out.

The friend of the photographer laughed, too. “That is if he ever realizes this is only his gaze — that’ll be the day his eyes will be opened!”

“Exactly,” said the photographer. “Anyway, we got rid of him. Come on, let’s have some tea.”

                                                                          Translated by Carol Stevens Yürür

Original Text: “Büyük Göz,” from the book Beş Ada (2002). Istanbul: Published by: İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları

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