From the underground

by Kai Schnier

A story goes around the world (Issue III/2020)

Photography Çağdaş Erdoğan -

For his photo book »Control«, the photographer Çağdaş Erdoğan documented the Istanbul underground scene for three years. He is currently a scholarship holder at bi’bak, a Berlin project space with a focus on migration and global mobility. Photo:


“Draw, take photos, write” - these were the words Çağdaş Erdoğan wrote from inside prison to his colleagues in Turkey back in October 2017. The photographer also wrote: “My friends, one day we will be free.”  This prophecy came true for him five months later: his half-year stint behind bars ended in February 2018.

Officially, Çağdaş Erdogan was arrested in September 2017 for a photograph he had taken in a park in Istanbul. According to the authorities, it showed a building used by the Turkish intelligence service. The photographer was put behind bars on suspicion of terrorism. When asked about the charges today, he shakes his head: “The charges were fabricated,” he said. “I was locked up because I showed the world an uncomfortable side of my home country.”

And indeed, Erdoğan’s images give insights that the state would probably prefer to keep way out of sight. The now 28-year-old photographer has documented Istanbul’s underground scene for years. Pictures of private parties from the LGBTQI+ scene can be found alongside protest photos of the Kurdish minority and portraits of petty criminals and gang members. Everything that Erdoğan's namesake at the head of state has been trying to push to the fringes of society for years is brought into the limelight by the young photographer with his flashy black and white photos.

When he hears “revolutionary” or “resistance fighter”, terms used by the international media to describe him and his daring shots, Çağdaş Erdoğan frowns. “The Western press likes to show faces of resistance which they feel comfortable with,” says the photographer. “In Germany these are intellectuals like Can Dündar and Ahmet Altan.” Erdoğan does not want to be one of them. Especially because other members of the opposition are far too rarely reported on: “In Turkey, 150 Kurdish journalists are currently in prison. You have never heard their names, have you?”



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