Out of Place: the evocative, sublimely detached photgraphs of Monica Fritz

By Andrew Finkel | May 6, 2024

Readers of Cornucopia might think they need no introduction to the work of Monica Fritz. For the last decade she has been photographer at large for this magazine, returning from assignments with sharp, often playful, but always unaffected takes on her subject matter. Her repertoire, from portraiture to mosque furniture, from landscape to cityscape is vast. And stylish. That plate of braised rib wrapped in pastry at an upmarket Istanbul eatery doesn’t look as though it has been worked over by a food stylist with a tin of shellac but by someone with a fork to whom the dish has given real pleasure. She doesn’t shy from depicting 89-year old Don McCullin, the most celebrated war photographer of his generation, as he strides through the ruins of ancient Perge with a vigour that contrasts with the eerie twilight of the scene. It takes not a double- but a triple-take to realise that the coastal scene on the cover of issue #56 is, in fact, an indoor mural spotted in an up-and-coming Boho café district of Istanbul’s Kadıköy. If Cornucopia’s mission has been to document what is best, most intriguing, most affecting of things Turkish, of seeing what has been forgotten or overlooked, then Fritz’s photographs have been an indivisible part of that project.

Moda Çay Bahçe, Kadıköy 2015 by Monica Fritz

All this leads us a whisper unprepared for Monica Fritz’s solo show at Şule Gazioğlu Art and Design along the Bosphorus at Emirgan. There are 33 photographs, modest in scale, in the sense of not trying to impress through size. They are not focused on a subject or specific theme but shuffled according to an aesthetic which takes far more than a cursory glance to appreciate. The ambiguity of the exhibition’s title, Out of Place, is one clue. We are on a whirlwind tour from upstate Pennsylvania to Amman, to Istanbul (of course), Cairo, but also Palermo, Jaipur, and London. But we are not there as tourists. The where, even the what and why, are almost irrelevant to what is in front of our eyes. The camera is not there to praise or embellish -or even record – these are scenes and moments which will never be revisited- but to create a mood or project a feeling that may never have existed in any tangible sense in the first place.

Of course, one could argue that this is what much photography does best – capture the feel of the fleeting moment. But Fritz’s work here, is not expressionist in the sense of freeze-framing the transient. If anything, the photographs are what might be called 'painterly'. They are spontaneous but at the same time highly composed – not by the photographer telling her subject to move right or left – but by light and colour, contrast and composition.

Palermo, Sicily, the procession chariot hit by a spot of sunlight in the Church of the Immaculate Conception 2017 by Monica Fritz

And we are left to explore on our own.There is rarely a central subject with even the shadows in sharp focus. A furculum or litter bearing Baroque statuary in a church in Palermo glows in an ethereal light, hyperrealistic in contrast to the surrounding congregation of dark, empty chairs.

Jaisalmer, (Rajisthan) India, a moment of silence in the ancient fortress desert town 2023 by Monica Fritz

There are similar values in night-time exterior of a what appears to be a temple in Jaisalmer which extraordinarily for anything set in India, is devoid of people.

Amman, Jordan 2014 by Monica Fritz (Hommage to Luigi Ghirri) 

A crowded skyline in Jordan is turned into a lonely still life, framed by the geometry of the large empty terrace and capped by a mysterious skyscape of blue and white with the focal point being a bit of mist that looks like someone has stuck their thumb through the clouds.

Viciri, Sicily Figures in the afternoon light are drawn to the mountains. 2019 by Monica Fritz

It’s not that the all the photographs are unpopulated (although it is true that there are not many people) but they all too often have their backs to us and never engage with the camera. This is true of the more dramatic photos in the serie: the black and white scene in Vicari, Sicily, where a small crowd scuttle off in perpetual motion, like extras in an Antonioni film, towards an alpine view.

Favignana, Sicily. A composition with blues and greens. 2018 by Monica Fritz

The bathers in a decidedly desultory beach beside a becalmed sea in Favignana, Sicily are anonymous, motionless, structural elements in a composition of stillness, and not there to evoke questions about their back story.

Tangiers, Morrocco Gran Café de Paris A frequenter is lost in thought in a symphony of shapes and reflections. 2023 by Monica Fritz

Even the man seated in front of the infinity of mirrors in a Tangiers café, the nearest thing to a portrait, has a glazed stare into the middle distance. He merges into wood and upholstery. One imagines he might be there still, but the photograph is not, about him.

New York City, Family life 2018 by Monica Fritz

Bundi, Rajisthan, A hotel lobby 2023 by Monica Fritz


Doğa Beyazit, Turkey A glimpse at twilight. 2021 by Monica Fritz 

Monica Fritz takes us round the world, her photos are evocative of place, but they are 'out of place' in the sense that she has stripped them bare. We go to Doğubeyazit in eastern Turkey – a place rich in historical monuments and natural beauty. But our vantage point is from what appears to be a very pedestrian half-built terrace of a hotel. In the middle distance is a modern building of little distinction that blocks our view of the magnificent Mount Ararat – and yet the photograph as an ensemble seems to glow. Is this a place we want to enter? None of this is easy, but then there is no reason why that shouldn’t be so.

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