Collective reflecting the life and times of Turkey

Collective reflecting the life and times of Turkey

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Collective reflecting the life and times of Turkey

Photo by Tolga Sezgin

A new exhibition at Istanbul Modern might outwardly seem like a presentation of photographs, but the show would more appropriately be seen as a mirror on the societal realities beyond the confines of the gallery walls.

“On the Road” presents 10 years of photos from the archive of Nar Photos, an independent collective that has recorded both major and under-reported events in Turkey’s recent history.

Curated by Sena Çakırkaya, the exhibition, which opened on May 29, will be on view through Nov. 9. Nar Photos is an independent collective which, since 2003, has been bringing together diverse viewpoints in Turkey through their egalitarian, democratic approach and their stance for freedom. Using photography as a visual tool to understand and express the world, the agency chooses to question rather than accept facts as they are presented.

By exposing different situations in life, they create a collective memory of the recent past as well as a broad area for discussion. Through the feature stories and news photography by the agency, the exhibition touches upon major events that have occurred in Turkey while also objectively reflecting authentic snapshots from around the country.

“The photographs do not show facts as they are presented to us; rather, they display the steps of a journey toward questioning the things that are accepted as facts. This visual archive does not look from without; with its sincere approach, it intervenes, rather than standing by as a mere witness. It invites us to confront and reckon with our times. The photographers in the collective take on an active role that triggers change by creating a social consciousness. Having an autonomous structure, the collective provides a stage for issues which are not shown or sufficiently spoken of to be represented,” said Çakırkaya.

The exhibition features 75 photographs that deal with various subjects: the city and urban transformation, public transportation, İnönü Stadium, Gezi Park, immigrants, and night life; celebrations such as circumcisions, henna nights, Newroz, and the Kafkasör Festival in Artvin; panoramas of diverse regions such as Kars, Ardahan, and Ararat; Armenians, Kurds, Greeks, Assyrians and their ceremonies; seasonal workers, denim sandblasters, paper scavengers, and strikes; the street with its LGBTQI and International Women’s Day marches. In addition to these photographs, the exhibition also features six videos produced collectively: an auction, Kalanda, Inönü Stadium, Lübbey, Akhuryan Station and northern Istanbul.


Photo by Eren Aytuğ. 

The 20 artists in the exhibition include Adnan Onur Acar, Ahmet Şık, Aylin Kızıl, Barış Sever, Eren Aytuğ, Erhan Arık, Fatma Çelik, Fırat Aygün, Gençer Yurttaş, Gülşin Ketenci, Hüsamettin Bahçe, Kerem Uzel, Lezgin Kani, Mehmet Kaçmaz, Özcan Yurdalan, Ruben Mangasaryan, Saner Şen, Serpil Polat, Serra Akcan and Tolga Sezgin.

Aiming to expose living conditions in people’s lives, the collective’s members believe that the function of images comes before their plastic or aesthetic value. Members of Nar Photos prefer to produce photographic interviews which have the potential to promote change. Stating that each of their photographs has a different story, they explain how they made the selection for “On the Road.”

“Rather than asking ‘what is happening in Turkey?’ we preferred to ask ourselves the questions ‘What was it that we saw? What was of value and importance to us? What were the events and facts that had an impact on Turkey’s social and political life?’” according to those behind the show.

“First of all, we are not people who are interested in photography per se. Rather than photography’s mechanical, aesthetic, or formal aspects, we are interested in its function, in the fact that it is a tool. The second and more important part is the question of what our photographs will change in both our and other’s lives. Our premise is that every photograph is taken for other people,” they said.


Hüsamettin Bahçe.

“When you show someone a picture, you want to effect a change in that person. We know we can’t change the world through photography, but we do question whether we could, at least, create some shift in opinions, make up for missing information, and whether we could make ourselves, and also the viewers, take a more critical look at the subjects we deal with, a look that is more concerned with the world; and a more critical look at ourselves as well. This actually has more to do with the way we relate to life than with photography itself,” the collective said.

Mostly focusing on topics in Turkey which remain invisible or are left in the shadows, the artists are interested in what is really happening and tries to filter these out by attempting to show reality without distorting it in the images they capture.

One thing they have focused on as much as the shooting process is how to select photographs and what long sentences they will form once they are put together.

“What we do may not be of any value today, but we do realize that we have to accumulate, to be aware of the times, and to look at those times not from today’s perspective but by projecting them forward and looking at them from that point; and we can feel that we are gradually gaining this ability,” the group said.

“We believe that all that we go through during this process will acquire a different significance in the future and will serve as real data for the next generation and the one after that,” the collective said.