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Modern Turkish Photography

Photographed by: Cem Turgay

As the country transitioned to a democracy in the early days of the Republic, a great change was evidenced in all of the art mediums, including photography. Finally photography developed to a degree that it was brought to the agenda of government policy. 

It was during these years that photography generally assumed the responsibility of searching for and identifying beauty, doing so by focusing on the relationships of man and nature, archeological sites, the changing and contemporary facades of cities, etc. Until the 1960s photography was generally appreciated for its ability to document, but at the same time works with romantic aspects were also frequently seen. 

Traveling in Anatolia and documenting scenes there became a kind of modus operandi for many photographers working in the first years of the republic.

The young nation of Turkey had benefitted much from photography’s power to publicize. Among these photographers, Othmar Pferschy (1898-1984) managed to capture the first modern documentary images with photographs he took at carefully determined moments, with an aesthetic sense, and an impeccable technique. 

While the representatives of the photographers of the 1940s were primarily interested in the documentary aspects of photography, they also simultaneously looked for ways of advancing the art of photography in Turkey.

Photographed by: Jak Baruh

Baha Gelenbevi  (1907-1984), who ranks as one of Turkey’s pioneers of artistic photography, had his first photography exhibit in 1939 in the Eminönü Community Center. While managing for many years to combine both his photography and cinema careers, in 1962 Gelenbevi left cinema and began focusing only on photography.

Mustafa Kapkın (1924-1975) opened the first photography studio in Karşıyaka, İzmir in 1943, and started doing portrait photography. Mustafa Kapkın continued up to the end of his life to search for new approaches in his photography work. He adapted his aesthetic knowledge to his portrait and nude photographs where he used a beautiful balance of light. 

Ara Güler (b. 1928), a contemporary documentarist and a great master, took the largest strides in ensuring an international place for Turkish photography. Many photographers known for their documentary work have experimented with some modern photography. 

Gültekin Çizgen (b. 1940) Gültekin Çizgen became interested in the artistic aspects of photography in 1958. 

It was in the beginning of the 1960s that Turkish photography began to assume its true identity and branch out abroad. During this period documentary and social reality styles dominated photography, but other trends were also seen. 

Şakir Eczacıbaşı (1929-2010) was a master photographer of photographs with rich content. Eczacıbaşı’s work reflects reality, but through an impressionistic lens. Even though he belonged to a generation that took photographs of the moment and focused on documentary styles, his photographs have more of an abstract expression. 

Ersin Alok (b. 1937) is a keen observer of the technology developments occurring in photography and uses these developments courageously in his photographs and unique exhibit designs. 

Kamil Şükûn (1948-2015), who has always held true to his aim of communicating his messages with unique compositions, today ranks as one of the pioneers of the contemporary approach in Turkish photography. 

Ahmet Öner Gezgin (b. 1948) is recognized as one of the pioneers of experimental photography in Turkey.

Şahin Kaygun (1951-1992) took of soldiers in 1976 marked the beginning of the period of his documentary style photographs with faded tones and light sepia colors.  He began his work in 1980, one that would push the technical opportunities Polaroid provided to its absolute limits. Kaygun uses symbolic narratives, coloring, and collages to create a world that is both expressionistic and fantastical. He is the first artist in Turkish photography to use contemporary graphic arts narratives and to create, what he calls, “painting-like photographs.” These photographs describe the confusion of the city and are actually a melancholic resistance to loneliness. 

The modern trends witnessed in the photography in Turkey are being utilized today by a considerably large number of artists (Ani Çelik Arevyan, Merih Akoğul, Jak Baruh, Silva Bingaz, Orhan Cem Çetin, Saygun Dura, Ahmet Elhan, Murat Germen, Sinan Koçaslan, Sıtkı Kösemen, Sevim Sancaktar, Alp Sime, Ali Taptık, Lale Tara, Serkan Taycan, Nazif Topçuoğlu, Cem Turgay). These individuals who have been able to use experimentation to solve their issues and have, in so doing, advanced new manners of expression, are continuing their efforts in advancing wide creative potentials. It is now photography that is bringing a new language to contemporary art.

Photographed by: Lale Tara