Sedat Pakay is a Turkish photographer and filmmaker who was a great friend of James Baldwin. He met Beauford in Istanbul during the summer of 1966 when Beauford first visited Baldwin's home in the Rumeli Hisarı quarter1 of the city.
Image from Wikipedia Commons
Pakay graciously granted me the following interview about his encounters with Beauford:
Les Amis: What was your first impression of Beauford and how did this change over time (if it did at all)?
Sedat Pakay: Upon arrival to Istanbul he looked very haggard and exhausted after the long arduous journey from Paris2. Within few days, in the company of James Baldwin who adored him, and with help from Black Sea breezes that gently swept by the stone porch where he would sit and sketch daily, he relaxed and looked very radiant and gratified. His chair would almost be placed next to the Bosphorus. Often, I would catch him in contemplative mood watching waves and the sail boats in between his sketching -- on small notepads with colored markers.
Later during the summer, he looked very content -- free from the pressures of living in a big city; this quiet living reflected its joy on his angelic face. He was in a loving environment, working without interruption. He was truly happy, and Jimmy took excellent care of him.
Les Amis: David Leeming writes that Beauford "became an object of veneration among our Turkish friends, who would come to him each afternoon as to a wise guru." Were you one of these friends?
Sedat Pakay: In the Turkish culture elderly people are respected and addressed in words of veneration. I always sought advice of older men and women in my family to resolve personal issues, with expectations that they would have the answers. BD was not any different. I would sit by him and listen to him. If one knows how to listen, words of a wise, experienced person are invaluable.
Les Amis: Did you consider Beauford to be wise?
Sedat Pakay: I did consider him wise. At that point (age 21) I knew very little about his life experience. As I read and heard of his painful past, my respect for the man grew. He was wise, benevolent, and generous. A small sketch he gifted me is a prize possession.
Les Amis: What inspired you to call him "Uncle Beauford"?
Sedat Pakay: I called him "Uncle Beauford" in conforming with Turkish cultural traditions. All old cultures revere their elderly and serve them to make them feel comfortable in their later years. In this tradition, addressing one's senior with words of respect, i.e. "uncle," "aunt," etc. is very proper.
Photograph by Sedat Pakay @1966
reproduced with the permission of the photographer
Les Amis: Regarding the photos that you took of Beauford with Baldwin and singer Bertice Reading in Baldwin's apartment, what was the occasion for this gathering?
Sedat Pakay: It was an afternoon visit by Bertice and her children -- a daughter in her teens, and a baby boy she and her husband adopted in Istanbul. It was a social visit, you know, talk of memories, old gossip, jokes, lots of laughs.
Les Amis: Did Beauford inspire you as a photographic subject?
Sedat Pakay: Faces inspire me as subjects for my photographs. You might say that "I collect faces". It was difficult to capture BD photographically because he would sit by the Bosphorus in a contemplative mood and would not even move a finger. Only when visitors arrived, and the house would come alive did one see him socializing, playing with friends' children, carrying on a quiet conversation.
Les Amis: Did you ever film him?
Sedat Pakay: I never filmed him. I started making films in 1967-68 when I was doing my Masters at Yale Art School.
Les Amis: What is your fondest memory of Beauford?
Sedat Pakay: My fondest memory of Beauford is his stoic disposition, at peace with himself while he was involved in producing his art. As I reflect on it now I realize how much I admired an artist so dedicated to his work which is very lyrical visually, while he was fighting with his demons day in and day out.
1The Rumeli Hisarı quarter takes its name from a majestic fortress built by Mehmet the Conqueror at the narrowest part of the Bosphorus River on the European side of the city. In his biography Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, David Leeming states that Beauford often "did watercolors of the hills of Asia across the straits" during his stay with Baldwin.
2David Leeming vividly recounts the details of the journey in Amazing Grace.