The big picture: men in burqas in search of a better life | Photography

Olgaç Bozalp grew up in Konya, a city in central Turkey. Twice a year in his teens he would make the journey to Istanbul, 12 hours on the bus, just to experience a sense of freedom. “My personality didn’t necessarily fit into a small-town mentality,” he says of those years. As soon as he could he moved, first to Cyprus to study theater and then settled in London, working as a photographer. “I didn’t move away until I was 19, but I always felt there was something for me beyond those borders.”

Bozalp’s new series of photographs, Leaving One for Another, is a meditation on the extremes of that impulse, a study of the hope and trauma of migration. Many of his pictures focus on the detritus of escape – ad hoc sculptures made of life jackets on beaches, people almost comically laden with all their worldly goods or spilling out of knackered cars. Playfulness leaches into something more desperate.

This image was taken at a salt lake near his home city. It shows local men, his friends, dressed in burqas. The human pyramid becomes, in his book, a metaphor for too many people packed on unstable modes of transport. The motorbike, with its promises of freedom, becomes surreally useless. “I wanted to think about the ways in which migration plays with our identities,” he says. “The experience of ‘leaving behind’ our history – the people in our lives, the lifetime of accumulated materials and our memories. Migration forces us to see things from a new perspective.”

He wants to build that ambiguity into his images. “Seeing a woman in a burqa may not make you blink twice, but seeing a man covered up in a burqa potentially upsets people. How the viewer wants to read it is entirely dependent on the way they view the world.”

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