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Turkish photographers depict unrest and upheavals

Ceyda Nurtsch | Stefan Dege
September 8, 2017

From the construction boom to violence against women, refugees to the Gezi protests: a Berlin exhibition of modern Turkish photography captures the Bosphorus nation's turmoil through journalistic yet artistic images.

A turkish couple stands at the sea in a photo from the gallery "f hoch 3"
Image: NarPhotos/Kerem Uzel

The title of the exhibiton, "Türkiyeli," means "from Turkey." The rooms of the gallery "f hoch 3" in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, where many Turks live, are filled with selected works by seven emerging Turkish photographers. They document the devastating turmoil and upheavals in their country: civil war-like conditions in the southeast, the war in Syria, refugees, the Soma coal mine disaster, the Gezi protests, the huge construction boom and violence against women. The exhibiting photographers, who include Kemal Aslan, Emine Akbaba, Goksu Baysal, Kursat Bayhan and Barbaros Kayan, critically approach these topics.

A photo from Turkey shows bodies moving in neon light
Ceren Saner's photography from queer parties received a lot of praiseImage: Ceren Saner

Pictures hang on the walls and a video flickers over a screen. Ceren Saner also belongs to the circle of artists whose work is exhibited here. The photographer was born in Istanbul in 1991. Her photo series "Isn't it love" shows blurred, partly touching bodies. Faces are not visible. The photos, taken mainly at queer parties, were only briefly visible in Turkey.

The reactions to her pictures are usually positive, says Saner. "People often tell me that the photos are different from typical depictions." Because she does not show people's faces in her photos, the focus instead is on the emotions and the movements depicted in the scenes.

Building bridges with exhibitions

The exhibition is curated by Gisela Kayser and Katharina Mouratidi as well as Attila Durak, a Turkish-born photographer. "Turkish photographers are developing a new contemporary visual language," Durak explains. "They depict the war in southeastern Turkey, for instance, through the photo of a glass bottle, which the women of Kobane have decorated with something they crocheted. This is how they explain war to us."

The menacing political developments in Turkey were reportedly at the forefront of the curators' minds as they planned the show two years ago. "Any photograph here," stresses curator Durak at the opening, "has its social background."

At the same time, Katharina Mouratidi says that the exhibition deliberately avoids any kind of polarization or evaluation. She argues that the exhibition presents a generation of photographers that is young, independent and objective and whose work incorporates a reporting style, whereas traditional Turkish photography is predominantly filled with landscapes and portraits.

Read more: Chinese photographers confront Cultural Revolution in Berlin

Protesters wave flags in Turkey
Kemal Aslan took this photo of protesters waving flagsImage: Kemal Aslan

Stories of people

Emin Ozmen is probably the most famous photographer. His whose work has attracted worldwide attention and received many awards. The photojournalist, born in 1985, works for Magnum. In his black-and-white series "Turkey's Hidden Wars," the photographer deals with the civil war-like conditions in southeastern Turkey, such as the police's use of tear gas during a demonstration of Kurds after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the November 2015 election. Ozmen sees himself as someone who makes documentaries: "my motivation is to tell the story of innocent people."

Read more: Turkey's anti-Kurdish crackdown continues

Co-curator Mouratidi is the artistic director of the "Society for Humanistic Photography," which runs the gallery "f hoch 3." her self-described goal is to raise awareness of different artistic positions. "The intention of the exhibition is not to divide but to unite and build a bridge that goes beyond official policy."