“As an immigrant, you’re always being tested outside of your comfort zone,” says photographer Olgaç Bozalp when we catch up about a new photo series he’s working on with filmmaker and photographer Osman Özel and stylist Raphael Hirsch, Home: Leaving One For Another. Before Olgaç moved to London from Turkey a decade ago, he’d only been to one country outside of his homeland – Cyprus. He came to the UK without the language or anyone to welcome him, and immediately had to deal with being away from family and trying to assimilate. “But the biggest struggle is how to support yourself to stay here,” Olgaç tells It’s Nice That. “The hardest part about migration is not leaving, the hardest part is staying.”
Olgaç knew Osman Özel from their small hometown in Turkey and met Raphael, who is from a Nigerian community, when in London. The trio found an affinity in their experiences moving to the UK, as well as some of the struggles they’d faced, and decided to collaborate on a series that aims to visualise some of the feelings unearthed by leaving one’s home.
Each still life is packed with symbolism, accentuated by props and costumes. An image showing a woman submerged in a fish shows the claustrophobia and stagnation of being trapped in a place, with the rug representing home and the clock in the background the destination. Olgaç says: “Where I come from I know a lot of people I know, mostly the younger generation, who want to change their life by searching for new opportunities and experiences but for whatever reason they are stuck in their own environment.”
Another image features a stack of uniforms draped over a fences, a nod to the physical barriers migrants are forced to pass through to get from one country to another. The arrangement of the uniform in a rugged field mirrors that of a scarecrow, acting as an allegory for security procedures and armed borders. “In the same way that the scarecrow’s purpose it to ward off the unwanted, police checks and military patrols are put in place to evoke fear in migrants," adds Raphael.
Aside from the difficulties of shooting in winter as well as scouting for models and props, the challenge of the project was one of representation. “Immigration is such a sensitive subject and we wanted to first and foremost be considerate and careful with how we portray it,” Olgaç says. “Many people have experienced far worse situations than we ever have. We’re not looking to exploit that, our initiative is to understand it better. Generally people fear the things they do not understand so we wanted to spark a discussion around topic," he continues.
“Whenever the media covers stories of the movement of people as a result of economic, social or religious reasons, these people are mostly portrayed as both faceless and nameless and as an audience there is sometimes a detachment from the people in question," concludes Raphael. "We decided, therefore, to use still life images as an allegory for this concept, and to show that, while in the media immigrants are largely stripped of their individual identity, they remain united in a common goal. They represent the struggles of all people in search of a better life.”