As he self-publishes his new photo zine, Buddha Was Born Here, Olgaç Bozalp reflects on a spiritual, eye-opening trip across the South Asian country
When photographer Olgaç Bozalp landed in Kathmandu, Nepal, for a long-overdue holiday, he had no pre-set schedule for the trip. The plan was simply to relax and meet local people, and have their recommendations dictate the course of his travels. Bozalp also had no intention of taking pictures, but this plan didn’t hold up for long. Having packed just one camera and 18 rolls of film, what was supposed to be a break from work gave way to his latest series: a moving, self-published zine titled Buddha Was Born Here.
“In my work, I mix fashion, documentary and abstract photography,” Bozalp tells AnOther. “Most of the time, I stage these scenarios. But as soon as I arrived [in Nepal], everything I had been creating in my work already existed in people’s daily lives. That really inspired me.”
One particularly striking image from Buddha Was Born Here is of a man carrying a bale of foliage so large it hides everything but his feet. It’s an image that’s reminiscent of Bozalp’s personal work, specifically his series Dad: On His Search For Hüseyin, in which his father is photographed posing amid piles upon piles of black plastic crates. Throughout his career, Bozalp has repeatedly challenged our preconceptions of what constitutes fashion photography, and has broadened our definition of beauty through endless, playful experimentation – a curiosity that is also evident throughout Buddha Was Born Here.
Vibrant green, deep red, ocean blue and pastel pink tones punctuate the series, drawing surprising connections between seemingly disparate images. Portraits of individuals are paired with still lifes or landscape images of standalone landmarks; the result is an intriguing and thought-provoking reimagining of humanity’s interwoven relationship with the inanimate world.
While some images in Buddha Was Born Here were captured by chance, others were staged in collaboration with the community Bozalp was photographing. For example, early one morning, at 5am, Bozalp woke up in the Chitwan district in western Nepal to the sight of a man walking his elephant. “The man was really in love with the elephants, the way he was treating them,” says Bozalp. “I tried a couple of different poses he suggested before I got the shot within a few minutes. Then they went on with their day.”
Beyond the country’s overt abundance of beauty, Bozalp explains that his motivations to visit the region were in part spiritual. Born in Turkey but based in London, Bozalp describes having worked for five years with barely any time to pause and reflect on the motivations and dreams guiding the direction of his life. In Nepal, happiness and fulfilment are framed as byproducts of our internal – rather than external – worlds. That means taking time and investing energy in cultivating and nourishing our emotional, psychological and spiritual health.
“In London, we are in constant competition,” says Bozalp. “For instance, I get excited to shoot for a big brand or a big magazine, but then, once I started travelling more, I realised most people have never heard of the magazine. I made that a big deal in my head. What people care about is our relationships with each other in that moment at that second. It’s humbling.” Yes, Buddha Was Born Here is a natural progression of Bozalp’s existing portfolio of work – which is as expansive as it is impressive – but it is also an attempt at making sense of the world; a step toward finding higher meaning.
“The more I travel, the more I question what we’re told,” he explains. “In London we have one truth, but when I travel to, say, Nepal, they have a different truth. When I go to Jordan, they believe in something completely different. It makes me question: should I really believe in what I see and what people tell me? This was my starting point and my finishing point: that there are many different truths that exist all at once.”
Buddha Was Born Here by Olgaç Bozalp is out now.