Olgaç Bozalp, nominated by Chiara Bardelli Nonino, is diversifying visual culture in the Middle East by introducing new ideas about gender, beauty and race
Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 19 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 750 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Every weekend throughout May, BJP-online is sharing profiles of the 19 photographers, originally published in the magazine. Discover more here.
Olgaç Bozalp hails from a small, sleepy, conservative town in the centre of Turkey called Konya. With not much to do, aside from escape to the metropolis of Istanbul for entertainment, a restless Bozalp started to create his own fun. “I was always bored in my home town so I started creating these characters for myself,” he explains. “In retrospect, even though I wanted to get away from home, it has actually played a big role as inspiration for my work. My relatives, their homes, the decor – I wanted to recreate those environments in my photographs.”
Bozalp eventually left Turkey to study theatre at university in Cyprus. “I was really into imitating people and so I got into acting,” he says. “I was recording these weird characters we would do for class, and that’s also how I got into photography – I would take their portraits. That was the first time I picked up a camera.”
Fast forward to the present day, and Bozalp’s portfolio features commissions from major fashion brands including Carven and Gucci, who recognised his unique style; a mix of travel reportage and fashion. He street- casts his subjects, and often spends time getting to know them at their homes before each shoot. Being connected to the Middle East region, Bozalp has been at the forefront of a movement to diversify visual culture, introducing new ideas about gender, beauty and race. “We sell products consumed by diverse groups of people, so how come they’re not being represented on the product?” he says. “We shouldn’t categorise beauty – that’s why I really like photographing people who never thought they could be models, or see themselves in those sort of clothes. It’s the main ingredient of my work.”
An example of this is when he recently travelled to Iran to shoot a women’s fashion story for French magazine, Antidote. “I was always fascinated by how underground Iran’s youth culture is. I didn’t see anyone else from abroad doing fashion stories post-Islamic Revolution,” he says. “I was always attracted by that. I travelled with a stylist and we ended up staying in people’s homes and hanging out with them. I got to understand the culture on a more intimate level.”
One of his more unusual models is his father, who he has photographed all over the world – including Japan, Jordan, Oman and India. “I wanted to document him because he’s such a character and really funny, and
I wondered if I showed it to other people if they would find him as funny as I do,” he says. This ongoing project is a warm reflection of filial love, paternal guidance, and modern masculinity in which the pair travel to some traditionally masculine spaces and stage a subversion of the father-son dynamic with unexpected reverie.