In conversation with Olgaç Bozalp
The photographs of Olgaç Bozalp take you on many journeys exploring different landscapes and cultures. Through his lens, he portrays a visual language that is truly unique to Olgaç’s personal style. After being selected as Foam Talent last year, he has returned to Amsterdam with two solo exhibitions: “Dad on His Search for Hüseyin” at Mercatorplein and “Leaving one for Another” at MAQAM, and Numéro had the honor of interviewing him.
WORDS Aïcha Pilmeyer
As I stroll down the hall of Foam I spot Olgaç talking to someone, geared up with a backpack and sporty sunglasses, looking ready to go somewhere. I find out that his train heading back to London is leaving early, so we get straight to it.
A: To begin, could you introduce yourself to our viewers and share the story of how you got started?
O: Yeah, of course. I am Olgaç, a photographer from Turkey. London has been my home for 15 years, but before that, I spent three years in Cyprus. So, you could say I have been away from Turkey for half my life. During my time in Cyprus, I studied acting but after 3 years I dropped out to answer to the feeling that I wanted to photograph and specialise in fashion photography. I went and tried applying to schools in Turkey but couldn’t pass the entrance exams. That’s when I decided to look for opportunities in London. Funny enough, I didn’t have good English language skills when I first arrived. And my dad didn’t want to give me money again so, I had to hustle on my own.
I’ll cut the story short – Initially, I focused on fashion and commercial photography, But deep down, I wanted to explore the world of documentary photography. The only problem was, I didn’t quite know how to go about it and, I was concerned if I would even make any money that way.
That’s when I made a resolute decision. I deleted everything and started from scratch. Determined to find my own style I went on a month-long trip to Indonesia, where I combined elements of fashion with a touch of documentary in my work. I played around with staging the documentary elements to achieve results that were somewhat absurd. Through this process of experimentation and travel, I slowly developed my own aesthetic around 2016.
A: I am curious what drew you to photography.
O: Back in Cyprus I could not escape the feeling that I was failing at school. Around the same time, I began photographing my schoolmates. I think I needed another option in my life. I noticed that I really enjoyed directing people, putting them in different roles – telling my own stories.
A: It sounds like you travel a lot, did this influence your style and way of working?
O: I’m not much of a planner, to be honest. Let’s say I’m heading to Nepal – I will have a general idea of what the country is like and how it might feel, but I like to leave room for surprises when I work. I enjoy spontaneity and improvisation, as it gives my work a distinctive character. It’s in those unscripted moments, collaborating with people on the spot, what makes the work special. I ask them to do random things, and they willingly contribute, adding their own interpretation.
While some people work with mood boards and detailed planning upfront, for me this carries the risk of imitation. Instead, I strive to capture something unique and unmistakably mine.
A: What inspired you to create the series featuring your father, “Dad on His Search for Hüseyin” as it seems very personal?
O: Well, when I decided to start from scratch, the series with my father was actually the first thing I started working on. I wanted to do something completely different. As I grew up, my parents created numerous family photo albums that held records of me. It got me thinking; I wanted to do the reverse and create something similar for my father.
I always have found my dad to be a bit awkward, kind of funny, and random even. I always wanted to test out: “If I take this photograph will it show this side of his character?” “Will it show his goofiness?” And In the end in this series, it really worked out, people see it.
A: Did you learn new things about him? Did it change your relationship?
O: Yeah, definitely. While traveling together we became like better friends. I realized that in Turkey – coming from a more conservative and smaller city, my dad maybe felt pressured by societal expectations, leading him to suppress his sense of humor. I noticed, the further we traveled along, he gradually embraced the freedom to express himself, knowing that it was okay to be his funny, authentic self. It was a transformative journey for both of us. I even brought my father to Amsterdam to see the opening. When we visited Mercator Plein to see the series, he confessed it was an emotional moment for him.
The nice part about the exhibition at Mercatorplein is that it is out on the street, free for everyone to access. Somehow, since I came here, I passed by the works every day. What struck me is that every time I saw a lot of people sitting there, amongst them older Turkish men. So I curiously asked these Turkish men like: “What do you think about this Turkish guy?” – pointing at my father.
A: What did they say?
O: “Is he Turkish?!” “But he is wearing an I love India T-shirt?!” “We don’t understand, what is his deal?!” – It was amusing.
A: You also have the exhibition called “Leaving one for another” It made me wonder, do you have a city that you call home?
O: It’s quite funny, really. I’ve spent a comparable amount of time in both London and Turkey. Oddly enough, I don’t feel a strong sense of belonging to either place. I would not want to live permanently in Turkey, but I can’t quite bring myself to call London my home either. I don’t think I want to have a home. I mean It is nice to go back somewhere, like as a base. But I think I like to travel more.
A: What is it that makes traveling so important to you?
O: I think it’s more about like challenging my own truth, asking questions about the way that people live. “Why do people adopt certain lifestyles?” “Why do we listen to certain rules?” It’s fascinating to see different perspectives on how people from various cultures think and behave. It propels me to question why certain rules and standards exist and which rules and standards are the right ones. The concept of “leaving one for another” pushes me to challenge my own perspective and understand why people choose to move and leave their homes behind.
A: And did you find out why?
O: No not completely actually. Sometimes they have to leave because of wars or problems in their communities, and other times they leave because want to find better opportunities. Through the series I mainly wanted to show what represents their lives and journeys. I documented it while adding staged and directed elements to the pictures. Sometimes giving hints as to how they maybe traveled from one place to another, or what their culture holds – but never telling the whole story in a direct way. This leaves room for the viewer to add their own context to the works and think about them.
A: You have these two solo exhibitions running now, it makes me wonder what is next for you?
O: Yeah, I have more plans ahead. I will continue photographing my dad for sure. This series has been a long-term project, and I’ve been shooting it for about 7 years now. It’s actually the longest series I’ve ever worked on! I have this idea of extending it to span 10 years. I’m intrigued by the idea of showcasing the timeline of my dad’s journey through aging..
Please don’t miss out on seeing his personal series “Dad on His Search for Hüseyin,” at Mercatorplein until the 17th of July – foam.org/olgac-bozalp Just walk or bike by and let the works and surroundings speak to you. Maybe it will encourage you to finally go on that trip together that you have promised your parent to go on.
Just 5 minutes away you can see his exhibition “Leaving one for another”at MAQAM this will be on show until the 7th of October – maqam-amsterdam.nl And hopefully, we will see his works back in Amsterdam soon.