Modernity, Memory and Identity: Vernacular Photographs from Turkey

Ozge Calafato | University of Amsterdam | Modernity, Memory and Identity: Vernacular Photographs from Turkey | Supervisors: Luiza Bialasiewicz & Esther Peeren | 2016-2020

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 will investigate the ways in which the urban middle classes used photography as a tool to generate shared memories in the four 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. I will source from a select number of individual, family and group portraits from a collection of 10,000 vernacular photographs, which I have worked on building over the course of two years for the Akkasah Photography Archive at the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD). The collection includes both professional and amateur photographs taken in a wide range of social settings in Turkey. After locating photographs in second hand booksellers and antique dealers, I have recently been involved in translating the metadata into the archive, including dates, locations, studio names and notes on the back of the photos written in Turkish, Ottoman, Armenian and a number of other languages. By decrypting the visual and textual information, I will infer social, economic, cultural and geographical origins and relationships. These images represent an ethnically diverse range of individuals, which will also allow us to compare and contrast with the official representations and discourses of Turkey’s modernization project in the early 20th century.