Writing about the photography of Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami reminded me of another film-maker whose photography I greatly admire – Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan. He’s exhibited two series – Turkey Cinemascope and For My Father. Those who have seen his films – Distant (Uzak), Three Monkeys and particularly Climates (Iklimler) will instantly recognise the parallels with his cinematography. In both films and photography, Ceylan reveals the influence of Andrei Tarkovsky.
On location trips for his film, Climates, Ceylan took a panoramic camera, but only in retrospect did he acknowledge the landscapes, city views and portraits as photographs not just reference pieces. The overwhelmingly monochrome scenes were mostly shot at dusk, in snowy conditions.
He possesses an exceptional sense of composition, and often shot where an arcing road gives views in two directions: Curved Street in Winter, Istanbul, opening onto a hill framed with old houses, and Baker Boy in Urfa, posed between the receding arms of a cobbled alley.
In contrast, the winter scenes in Istanbul are about the exquisitely faded city. Ceylan exploits the blizzards in timeless pieces such as Trams in Beyoglu, where hunched-up pedestrians recall traditional Japanese painting.
The painterliness of Ceylan’s photographs derives from his use of absorbent cotton-rag paper and archival pigment to add depth to detail. Vignettes from the bleak plains of Anatolia invite comparisons with Breughel: their white backgrounds and miniaturised, bundledup figures going about daily chores at dusk.
This shot of Ishakpasa palace, in the region of eastern Turkey around Mount Ararat, appears in the final sequence of his film Climates.
In each of the images in the series For My Father, Ceylan’s elderly father, Emin, is photographed in various locations, in compositions designed to draw as much emotional power from the natural surroundings as possible. In A Winter Day on the Galata Bridge, the elder Ceylan leans over a set of railings next to the open sea as a flock of seagulls hovers above. In Winter Light, the man stands close to the camera, staring at the lens, but it’s the stormy sky behind him that grabs the attention and defines the shot.
The series also features very intimate shots, such as this one.
- Nuri Bilge Ceylan photography gallery: official website. The images are best viewed here, at higher resolution than is possible on this blog.