Between Gezi protest and symbolic power

The exhibition also includes work by the renowned photojournalist collective Nar Photos, founded in 2003. It shows three large-format pictures from their 2013 Gezi series, depicting demonstrators exposed to major police violence.

Unusually for a photojournalism series, it has no captions, although the accompanying text explains this choice. The three pictures are part of an eight-part series that was supposed to go on display in the Museum Istanbul Modern in 2014, until the museum management demanded their removal.

In the spirit of the Gezi protests, the three pictures are therefore presented as a collective work, without crediting an individual photographer.

Ali Kazmaʹs two video pieces "Prison" and "School" from his 2013 "Resistance" series stand out for their conceptional stringency and the resulting force of their expression. In static video images almost photographic in appearance, Kazma shows vacant interior rooms of public school and prison buildings, revealing striking visual similarities.

Exhibition poster for "Arles 2018: Les Rencontres de la Photographie" (source:
Part of the French photography festival "Les Rencontres DʹArles": "A Pillar of Smoke" takes in the work of 14 photographers and two collectives, all of them portraying contemporary Turkey in diverse ways. Itʹs a platform for a generation born between the early 1970s and the mid-1990s, with first-hand experience of the countryʹs wide-ranging shifts between authoritarianism and political opening

The recreation rooms, dining halls or cinemas can barely be told apart, even at second glance. These places are shaped by an omnipresence of symbolic political power, including in the form of portraits of the founder of the Turkish republic, Ataturk.

The Istanbul-based artist Nilbar Gures focuses on staged photography. Several of her pictures from the series "TrabZONE" and "Cicir" are on show in Arles. The photo "The Living Room", for instance, depicts a typical living room with a large corner sofa and four people sitting on it.

All we see of them, however, is their legs and feet, protruding from beneath loose covers. Cocktail dresses are draped over the covers, visualising the subjectsʹ gender. Here, Gures tackles issues of gender identity, visibility and invisibility.

For the head of the Rencontres DʹArles, Sam Stourdze, the exhibition continues a festival custom of also looking at non-European photographic traditions.

What he finds convincing about these works from Turkey is that the artists on show incorporate contemporary visual imagery in an outstanding way, yet remain deeply immersed in the complex local situation.

Having showcased Iranian photography last year, the festival is considering highlighting photography from the Middle East in 2019.

Felix Koltermann

© 2018

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire

The exhibition is on display until 23 September in the Maison des Peintres in Arles.

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