Hollanda Araştırma Enstitüsü  -  Nederlands Instituut in Turkije

Modernity, Memory and Identity: Vernacular Photographs from Turkey

Özge Calafato (University of Amsterdam)

Image: Courtesy of the Akkasah: Center for Photography

My research project focuses on photographic representations of the urban middle class in Turkey between the 1920s and the 1950s in the context of a society undergoing rapid secularization and Westernization. I investigate the ways in which the urban middle classes used photography as a tool to generate shared memories in the three decades following the foundation of the republic, and the role of their photographic representations in negotiating an identity for themselves as a newly minted citizen of a modern nation state. In my study, I source from a select number of individual, family and group portraits from a collection of 15,000 vernacular photographs, which I have worked on building over the course of three years for the Akkasah Photography Archive at the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD).

My fellowship at NIT in July 2017 gave me the unique opportunity to further my research on site. I had collected substantial material for my research during my previous trips to Istanbul and Izmir; however, I needed to go back to Istanbul for interviews with not only scholars and curators who specialize in photography in the late Ottoman and early Republic periods but also with the second hand booksellers and antique dealers I had purchased the images from. With its extremely central location on the Istiklal Street, I was easily able to track and talk to several dealers, which offers a very valuable set of data regarding the photography market in Turkey.

During my fellowship, I also visited several archives and libraries such as the İstanbul Research Institute, Women’s Library in Balat and Bosphorus University Archives that include images of the late Ottoman and early Republic era for a comparative study. I was able to access some rare books and magazines, which are primary resources for the chapter I’m currently working on regarding photography and gender in the early Republican era.

My stay in Istanbul was very productive and the many conversations I had with scholars, collectors and archivists helped me rethink the parameters I’ve been working with for my thesis. With its wonderful facilities and warm, welcoming atmosphere, the NIT is an ideal place for writing and research. I would like to thank Dr. Fokke Gerritsen and Güher Gürmen and the entire team for this wonderful opportunity and strongly recommend the fellowship for the researchers.