The Istanbul Modern celebrates Ozan Sağdıç

The Photographer’s Testimony

By Annette Solakoğlu and Monica Fritz | January 18, 2024

Ozan Sağdıç Ph. Annette Solakoğlu

Istanbul Modern's latest photography exhibit, Ozan Sağdıç, the Photographer's Testimony was a wonderful surprise to both of us, not being a familiar name but still  an important figure in the history of Turkish photography.  Perhaps most of his career working as a press photographer and not being a part of an International Agency such as Magnum has kept him out of the limelight. The 127 photographs in this moving exhibition were only a small portion of Sağdıç's 70 year career as a documentary photographer. We were impressed with his fine sense of the ordinary, the lightness, playfulness and a strong sense of humor in both his documentary shots and portraiture. We were charmed by the elegance and directness in his work, he was more like a witness. Here are a few images that have spoken to us personally.

Party Leaders USA, Ankara, 1966.

The film director Akira Kurosawa used snow in his films to express inner turmoil but in Turkey, a country where people are used to change, it seems to have put these politicians at ease.  The atmosphere is unpretentious and joyful and at the same time a bit surreal. The authentic expressions of some of these important party leaders are mesmerizing as they wait for the arrival of President Cemal Gürsel from the USA. The first sign of snow is always a slight surprise. Sağdiç's unique style here is unmistakable. MF

On the Way to Fountain Gölbaşı, Ankara, 1970s

Four young girls take center stage in this 1970s photograph titled On the Way to Fountain. The girls even appear twice their size thanks to the shadows cast onto the earthy ground behind them. The photographer artfully captures their movement and holds it still for us to look closely: we can feel their steps as they march united across the frame in a beautifully composed diagonal line. To observe a simple chore and capture its pure beauty speaks to the humanist approach characteristic of Ozan Sağdıç's work. AS

Çerkeş Officers Club, Çankırı, 1973

The irony here speaks for itself. A group of clerks packed as neatly onto a balcony as the knots in their ties await a group shot. They merge well into the architecture, the group is perfectly framed by two others in the side windows with more casual, less posed glances. Their bodies are shaped by chairs and desks, the men stand at attention with hands behind their backs. Their seriousness becomes slightly silly, almost out of Monty Python but more delicate; the photographer has stepped back, his respect is shown in the composition and the document of the time. MF

Aizanol Çavdarhisar, Kütahya, 1970

This carefully composed photograph, made in 1970 in the village of Çavdarhisar, reflects on the coexistence of the ancient and the present-day, the spiritual and the physical. At the same time, it is a testament to our changing world. The Aizanoi Temple of Zeus, dating back to around AD 92, stands deserted and forgotten on top of the hill, but the need to work the land continues. With much attention to detail, Sağdıç created a horizontal composition of three layered shades of gray, from the dark, freshly plowed earth at the bottom frame, the field in the middle, and the lighter gray clouds above. The farmer is centered at the base, the temple rises to the sky above. As if to counter this natural order, sunlight passes through the clouds and creates a halo around the backs of the bulls and their master. AS 

Gülhane Parkında Lunapark

This photo stood out to me, it is different than the others. It's cinematic quality tells many stories of mystery and suspense. It's motionless. The silent pause of the carousel is almost as sinister as the men in suits with their backs turned towards the camera. This beautiful grainy print would make a great book cover or could be inspiration for a painting. MF

PTT (Post and Telegraph Organization) Unknown Numbers Service, Ankara , 1964

Hello!? Operator? This window into PTT's telephone operation in 1964 put a smile on my face. It brought back the amusing stories I had been told about the days when one first had to speak to an operator only to then be connected ‑manually and by a real person. So this is what it actually looked like, was my thought as I reached for my smartphone in my coat pocket. The composition of this historic photograph is a simple but effective diagonal, centering the modern-day columns of phone directories. And really, all names fit? AS 

Ph. Annette Solakoğlu

Ozan Sağdıç:  The Photographer's Testimony can be viewed at Istanbul Modern until October 20th, 2024. Open Tuesday - Sunday 10 - 6pm Fridays 10 - 8pm

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