The Istanbul Modern celebrates Ozan Sağdıç

The Photographer’s Testimony

By Annette Solakoğlu and Monica Fritz | May 23, 2024

Ozan Sağdıç Ph. Annette Solakoğlu

Istanbul Modern’s latest photography exhibition, Ozan Sağdıç, the Photographers Testimony was a wonderful surprise to both of us, unfamiliar as we were with this important figure in the history of Turkish photography. Perhaps a career mostly taken up by press photography, as opposed to being promoted by an international agency such as Magnum, has kept him out of the limelight. The 127 photographs in this moving exhibition were just a small portion of Sağdıç’s 70-year career as a documentary photographer.

We were impressed with his fine sense of the ordinary, and by the light playfulness and strong sense of humour in both his documentary shots and his portraiture. We were charmed too, by the elegance and directness in his work. 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 slightly surreal. The expressions on the faces of some of these important party leaders are mesmerising, as they wait, slightly taken by surprise by the first drops of snow, for the arrival of President Cemal Gürsel from the USA. Sağdıç’s unique style is unmistakable. MF

On the Way to the Fountain, Gölbaşı, Ankara, 1970s

Four young girls take centre stage in this 1970s photograph titled On the Way to Fountain. The girls 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 to enable us to look closely. We can almost feel their steps as they march united across the frame in a beautifully composed diagonal line. To observe a simple scene and capture its pure beauty speaks to the humanist approach characteristic of Ozan Sağdıç’s work. AS

Çerkes 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 stand ready for a group shot. They merge well into the architecture, the group perfectly framed by two colleagues looking from the side windows with more casual, less posed glances. Their bodies shaped by chairs and desks, the men stand at attention with hands behind their backs. Their seriousness becomes slightly silly, almost Monty Pythonesque but more delicate. The photographer has stepped back, his respect shown in the composition and the documenting of the occasion. MF

Aizanoi Çavdarhisar, Kütahya, 1970

This carefully composed photograph, taken 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 at the top of the hill, but the need to work the land remains. With great attention to detail, Sağdıç created a horizontal composition of three layered shades of gray: at the bottom the dark, freshly plowed earth, in the middle the field, and above them the lighter gray clouds. The farmer is centred 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 as different from the rest. Its cinematic quality tells many stories of mystery and suspense. It is motionless, the silent pause of the carousel almost as sinister as the men in suits with their backs turned to the camera. This beautiful grainy print would make a great book cover or perhaps inspiration for a painting. MF

PTT (Post, Telphone 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, bringing back amusing stories I’d been told of the days when one first had to speak to an operator before being connected – manually and by a human being. ‘So this is what it actually looked like’, was my thought as I reached for the smartphone in my coat pocket. The composition of this historic photograph is a simple but effective diagonal, centring the modern-day columns of phone directories. And really, all the names fit? AS 

Ph. Annette Solakoğlu

Ozan Sağdıç:  The Photographers Testimony can be viewed at Istanbul Modern until October 20, 2024. Open Tuesday – Sunday 10 – 6pm, Fridays 10 – 8pm.

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