Ahmet Polat has a special place within the context of current culture and the mass migration happening between the Middle East and Europe, given his childhood between Turkey and Holland. There are certain moments and memories contained in Polats’s photos; a portrait of our identity and reality.
Your work captures Turkish Youth, as seen in “Kemal’s Dream” – so how do you perceive the youth of today compared to ten/fifteen years ago in Turkey?
While the 1999 earthquake destroyed many lives it also activated a whole new generation of young people. In a way they had won something and had found their voice. But the Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013 almost killed that same voice. I’m full of sadness thinking about what 2013 could have meant for our young generation. We had so much hope and joy. New possibilities, sharing ideas, we felt it was our time. But in the past three years everything has changed. People hide their ideas. They are afraid of being judged or afraid of people stealing ideas for their own benefit. It’s a new hurdle we have to go through.
Did you spend time in Turkey in your youth? Where did you spend the majority of your time? Has this influenced your view of Turkey?
I basically grew up in Yalova and Zonguldak. My family was living in both villages/ cities. I was there almost every year from when I was 6 months old. So I know a few things growing up there. We went to get fresh milk every weekend so grandma could make her famous sütlaç. It was the best in the world. My brother and I together with all my cousins would stay at my grandmothers home and just fight to get the last one! Also we would go to Termal every month. Just to have a bath. I played basketball every night with my local friends. But after 1999, after the earthquake, it all changed.
Do you consider your photographs as a way to establish an identity, whether for yourself, or through your subjects?
No not at all. I just wanted to understand the world around me. And photography was a great excuse to look around and ask questions. If we look back on all my work I can still say that about every project. Every job I did still carries that same intention.
You had a quest to reconcile cultures and the identity of Turkish migrants in The Netherlands. How did this period reflect on your own identity, given your father is Turkish and your mother Dutch?
It’s been a long journey and I had to find different ways to open up the migration story within Holland. Many times people tend to forget the past in order to shape the future for their own benefit. So nobody is waiting for my work talking about things that affect our society. But these days because of all the refugees in Europe it seems I’ve become the new specialist on migration. People want to know what I think and what we could do. It’s interesting to experience this shift.
How would you define the “power of photography” in regards to your photographs? What is “Imagine Istanbul” about?
Visual culture still has a strong influence on day-to-day life. So photography has an important roll to play within that. But social media has made it very hard to create good content and give people the most truthful perspective of any story. So we are struggling to define new ways and methods on how to do this. A Bridge Too Far is just my latest chapter on Turkey in general. It’s part of a continuous narrative I have with this country.