Growing up, Turkish photographer Olgaç Bozalp’s dad took him on his first trips to other countries, and in the last few years Olgac has been returning the favor. Together, they’ve visited Oman, Jordan and India, and in each place Olgaç has photographed his dad exploring the landmarks, tasting the food and getting to know the people. He’s always loved bringing out his subjects’ real personalities in his work, and his dad’s social chameleon character shines through in all the shots. Here, Olgaç explains to Alex Kahl how their trips together have brought them closer.
The only three projects on Turkish photographer Olgaç Bozalp’s site are titled Dad and his Omani friends, Dad and his Indian friends and Dad and his Jordanian friends. Over the last few years he’s been travelling to places with his dad and photographing him as he explores the local culture. Olgaç captured his dad sitting with big groups of strangers in the street, or eating the local cuisine while staring at the camera. He photographed him as he took selfies on sand dunes and stood awkwardly in front of famous landmarks, even putting his arm around a statue of Mahatma Ghandi, wearing his signature sunglasses in most of the shots.
His dad lives a very ordinary life back home in Turkey, selling clothes in his small shop, and maybe that’s why these photos are so satisfying to look at. Seeing his Dad adapt to environments he isn’t used to, merging with the locals in these faraway lands, the photos ooze a sense of adventure, and the feeling that anyone at any age can go and embed themselves in different cultures and communities.
Even Olgaç said that watching his dad inspired him to be more comfortable approaching strangers in the street to model for him. “I don’t know if he necessarily wanted to sell clothes, I think he secretly wanted to be an entertainer,” Olgaç laughs. He’s come to know his dad more than ever before on these trips, as photographing people is his favorite way to learn things about them.
“My dad is a bit random,” Olgaç says. “Like he takes naps with one sock on and one sock off so he doesn’t get too hot. He has a lot of personality.” He also says he’s a prankster who’s always joking with everyone, and this was clear to see when we sent Olgaç some questions to ask him on camera and he started playing the Mission Impossible theme tune from his phone and dancing along to it. This comic streak comes out in Olgaç himself too, as even when he can’t be with his Dad somewhere, say, the pyramids, he’ll get his face up on a phone screen and make sure he gets a photo there.
Growing up in the quiet city of Konya in Turkey, there wasn’t a lot for Olgaç to do. He would leave for Istanbul twice a year to let loose and explore, travelling 12 hours each way on a bus. “I often felt a bit different, as if my personality didn’t necessarily fit into that small-town mentality,” he says. “I didn’t move away until I was 19-years-old, but I always felt there was something for me beyond those borders.”
While his friends were off playing sports, he would spend time writing poetry and scripts. “When my dad bought a camera when I was 12, I used it to record my sister and myself as different characters with different voices,” he says. “We’d dress up and then record and watch ourselves. The characters he created were motivated by whatever experience he was having or the people around him. Olgaç developed an interest in comedy, and he would spend his free time creating stories to make his friends laugh. When a relative working as an actor introduced him to theatre, he moved to Cyprus to study it, failing almost all his classes. While there, though, he started taking photos of himself as he impersonated all of these characters, and he would take portraits of his classmates. “My passion for photography grew from there,” he says.
The character he’s been focusing on more than any other lately is his dad. Since he loves to take pictures of people once he knows a lot about them, you’d think his dad would be his ideal subject. “Not in the beginning!” he laughs. “When we went to Jordan together in 2016, I wanted to photograph a story but I knew I didn’t want to shoot empty landscapes as I enjoy shooting people.
Then I thought, why am I looking so far for a great character to photograph? It never occurred to me before to shoot my dad, growing up he photographed and recorded me and my sister all the time, and since he was in front of me I wanted to find out what would happen if I started shooting him. When I asked him in Jordan if I could shoot him he said no, but since he loves himself that the more I asked and the more he said no, the more I knew he wanted to be photographed. And my dad knows how to turn it on for the camera. He’ll never speak to it but he’s a silent collaborator for each of our shoots.”
Olgaç says that travelling together turned their father-son relationship into a friendship. His dad has travelled to over 60 countries, a lot of them on family holidays, but on these recent trips it became less of a family environment and more about discovering things about each other as individuals. “I was seeing him in a new light when we were hanging out, and the intimate environment provided us with new conversations and more openness.”
He learned about the way his dad was unafraid to approach people despite his limited English, which made him even more animated than he normally would be, as he gestured excitedly to everyone he met. The photos inspire a heartwarming feeling, and all of these projects give the impression of a man taking his dad around the world, and building the kind of relationship that they might not have had beforehand.
His dad’s old fashioned sensibilities come out on a lot of the trips, as he spends a lot of time complaining about the price of train travel or food at a restaurant. “My dad wanted to go to India a few years back, and we made it to Taj Mahal. When we got there I asked him what he thought of it, if he thought it was worth it, if he was impressed by the architecture,” Olgaç says.
“We went all that way to see one of the seven wonders of the world and he just said he was more worried about the ticket price and whether the food would be cheap. His response only made the trip more memorable. I connect dad’s personality to all the places we visited together.”
His growing understanding of his dad’s personality reflects his approach with everyone he photographs. He’s not only obsessed with characters, but also with capturing the real, genuine personalities of those characters. By finding unassuming models and not adding any extras like make-up or styling or jewellery, Olgaç feels he’s more likely to capture someone’s true “essence.”
He likes to photograph people in their own real environment rather than a studio, believing that they’ll be more at ease there. He always starts with a chat before he takes their photo. “Once you get talking to them you can get an idea of their personality, and their life experiences, so I look for their identity when we start shooting,” he says. “Maybe they’re not commercially common but when they’re being photographed, even the shy ones have something to say.”