This Photo Series by Olgaç Bozalp Is a Thoughtful Meditation on Migration

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Home: Leaving One For Another Olgaç Bozalp photographer
Home: Leaving One For AnotherPhotography by Olgaç Bozalp

In his first UK solo exhibition and photo book, Home: Leaving One For Another, the Turkish photographer considers the experience of movement

In the context of our discursive and globalised world, perhaps the one immutable constant is movement. For some, movement offers opportunity, self-expression and profit. For others, movement is forced, dangerous and permanent. In his first UK solo exhibition and photo book Home: Leaving One For Another, Turkish photographer Olgaç Bozalp demonstrates how in both cases, a journey is endured; always driven by the promise of a new life.

“I like unexpectancy with my work,” Bozalp tells AnOther, “I like to challenge the perspective of people.”

Collaborating with Nigerian stylist Raphael Hirsch on art direction, the project is an arresting mixture of staged and documentary photography. Bozalp’s subjects narrate stories of migration through visual metaphors that pose questions, not answers. Televisions lament static in front of a veiled figure, an eerie sculpture of life jackets stands on a cloudy beach while a woman drowns in a fish tank. The images are essentially ambiguous; Bozalp manages to evoke rather than transmit meaning – a testament to his unique practice.

A striking detail in Home: Leaving One For Another is the absence of human faces. “When you watch it (migration) on the news, it’s never about individual identity, they’re faceless,” Bozalp explains. This deliberate omission is a criticism against the figure of the migrant in the media, who is commonly portrayed not as an individual human being, but as a disembodied phantom. More striking, is how in Bozalp’s photography, despite the absence of face, the migrant has never been more clearly considered and respected as an individual.

“Travelling in Asia, I got really inspired by the way people used the bike, people sit on them, even entire families, to get from one place to another,” he says. “That really reminded me that even if you don’t have a roof over your head, the bike can be home.” Featuring almost as frequently as human subjects, inanimate motorbikes become characters themselves. They pose adorned in red and white sunflowers or in sharp contrast, shoulder the weight of knotted sub-machine guns. On the one hand the motorbikes, “represent where you want to go, where you want to be,” and the transience of home in transmigration. On the other, they speak to the pervasiveness of transport, which can take life as easily as it facilitates it.

In a similar vein, Bozalp expresses how in every instance of migration material traces are often left. “I think people always attach to things, it’s a representation of their past. That’s why I always photograph a lot of the stuff left behind, I’m always attached to that,” he says. Indeed, tethering much of Bozalp’s work together is a thoughtful investigation into our relationship with the inanimate world. From a crumbling house in Uzbekistan to a ruined bus seat stranded on the red cliffs of Wadi Rum, this debris – left before or during transit – carries mnemonic significance, representing the markers of a once-there human presence.

A migrant himself, the project is as deeply personal as it is political. “My personal experience is that I just didn’t feel like a good match to where I was born,” he says. “I wanted to understand my side of the story, why I wanted to move out, what was the motivation.” Numbered text on the book’s cover and along the exhibition’s storefront in east London recall Bozalp’s childhood spent in his hometown of Konya, Turkey. They read like a journal entry, capturing Bozalp’s youthful angst from feeling the home he was dealt was not where he belonged.

Images become conduits for Bozalps own memories. For example, in one portrait, a woman peers out of a window, her silhouette covered by lace curtains, “every time I go and leave, they (his family) go behind the curtain … and then they wave at me, that freezes in my memory.” In his intimate recollections, Bozalp captures the impulsive feelings of not belonging and wanting to move. Yet also, the bittersweet moments that come with any departure: the goodbyes, the memories and the longing.

Home: Leaving One For Another by Olgaç Bozalp is on show at 1014 Gallery in London from 2 February-10 March 2023, and is published by Void.