“I was not surprised at all at being arrested,” Çağdaş Erdoğan tells BJP. “It’s enough to say that as we speak there are still 170 reporters in prison in Turkey.”
The 26-year-old only recently regained his freedom, after being arrested on 02 September 2017 for taking photographs in Yoğurtçu Park. Officially he was taken into custody for photographing the Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MİT) building, the home of Turkey’s answer to MI5, the National Intelligence Organisation. “But it is entirely fictitious,” he tells BJP, “because the place where I photographed is just a park and there isn’t any building, or even signs that show the presence of a restricted area where you cannot take pictures. Shortly after, the main reason of my arrest became the fact that I didn’t share any information about the contacts I used for some of my reportage as a journalist.
On 13 February, Çağdaş Erdoğan will stand trial in Istanbul accused of membership and support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist group classified as a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government. Erdoğan is of Kurdish descent, grew up in the region and, as an adult, embedded with affiliates of the PKK during the complex, multifactional conflict that has crossed the borders of Syria, Iraq and Turkey. But he did so, he claims, purely as a photojournalist intent on documenting an unseen conflict for the world’s media and without any alliance with or allegiance to any organisation. His only allegiance was to photography.
“MY FRIENDS!” writes Çağdaş Erdoğan from the Silivri Prison, Istanbul on 21 September, in a handwritten letter translated by a curator contact and circulated by his publisher Akina Books. “I salute all of you with my heart. Regardless of the illogical times we have been having, I hope you are well. Don’t worry about me. I’m doing well despite the physical and psychological negativities I experienced since the last two weeks.” Erdoğan was taken into custody at the start of September and officially arrested on 13 September, when he was put into pretrial arrest on accusations of membership to a terrorist organisation. In his letter, Erdoğan discusses the reason he was initially apprehended, and discusses some of the reasons he has been given for the terrorism charges.
“Just a few days after the opening, soldiers entered the gallery and removed some of the photographs,” says Harit Srikhao, a runner-up in this year’s BJP Breakthrough Awards. The Thai photographer, whose series Whitewash uses the military crackdown in 2010 as its starting point, questions government control, censorship and propaganda. “You are able to talk about politics in public, but if you talk ‘bluntly’, you would be arrested,” says Srikhao.
“I believe Turkey is photographed deficiently,” says Çağdaş Erdoğan. “The photographs we see of Turkey are propaganda for the nationalist movement, or they’re Orientalist images for the outer world since these are what they want to see.”Erdoğan, 24, is a Kurdish Turk born in a small town in the east of the country who has established himself as one of the leading young photojournalists in a newly authoritarian and conservative Turkey
How to secure a country investigates the abstract concepts of border and security in one of the most heavily armed countries in the world. It’s a striking, forensic series, and it won Salvatore Vitale the first prize in the PH Museum 2017 Grant. Vitale started work on the project back in 2014, after Switzerland voted against mass immigration – resident in Switzerland for ten years, he was originally an immigrant from Italy. During his research, the word ‘security’ started to jump out, along with ‘border’ and ‘protection’ , he says, so he decided to try to visualise the concepts; it took him a whole year to get access to the security system, and when he did, “fate wanted it to be a border guard”. His images are clean and often deliberately devoid of people, an aesthetic that deliberately suits the topic and the country. It’s “an aseptic, almost clinical language that is part of Swiss culture”, he says, adding: “I rarely show people, because it was more important for me to show the dynamics of how the system works. It was …