Photographer Ergun Cagatay’s images reveal Turks in their natural states in Germany in 1990, documented in an exhibition at the easily accessible Taksim metro station in Istanbul.
Kerem Saglam had a different perception of Turkish "guest workers" in Germany until the exhibition of Ergun Cagatay’s photos at Istanbul's Taksim metro station gave him a new insight into their lives.
“I pass by this gallery all the time,” says the 27-year-old Saglam, looking at Cagatay’s photos. “I visited this exhibition a few weeks ago. This time, I wanted to take a closer look and see all the images.”
Saglam says the photos, of Turkish guest workers in Germany taken in 1990, “reflect a very different world than what [he knows].” Fascinated by the photos, he says Turks in Turkiye have a certain conception of Turks who have gone to work in Germany (“Almanci”), but that Cagatay's photos challenge stereotypes.
“Some seem to have become even more Turkish as they live in Germany, while others have assimilated to some extent,” Saglam observes.
This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of Turks being invited as “guest workers” to Germany, with the intention, perhaps of both parties, that they would return to their homeland once Germany was back on its feet. Sixty years later, we find that is not the case; and that Turks make up the biggest ethnic minority group in Germany, their numbers in the millions.
The late Turkish photographer Ergun Cagatay documented Turks living in Germany on a multi-city trip to the country in 1990. His photos, organised by the Istanbul municipality and the Goethe Institut, are on display at the art gallery within Istanbul’s Taksim metro station until the end of the month.
The Turkish photographer Ergun Cagatay took almost 3,500 photographs as part of the feature ‘Turks in Germany 1990 – The Second Generation.’ Of the thousands of photos, curator Alexandra Nocke explains, 116 were selected to be displayed in Istanbul that had previously been on display in Germany.
In 1990, Ergun Cagatay travelled through Germany and visited centres of labour migration – from Hamburg via Cologne, Werl, Berlin and Duisburg. The timeline of the exhibition follows his journey through the five cities. “Each chapter in our exhibition,” Dr Nocke says, “opens up a window to the special characteristics of that specific place - local industry, the cityscape and the social community.”
“We chose images with regards to aesthetics and content. The story is that of the lives of the first and second generation of Turkish migrant workers in Germany,” Dr Nocke tells TRT World in an email interview. “So we were interested in choosing impactful images that have a special storyline and sometimes even offer a story ‘behind’ the image.”
Nocke adds that in several cases “we even succeeded to find those protagonists portrayed by Çağatay and included their story in the overall concept. These contemporary witnesses helped us to bridge between past and present and address urgent debates on identity and participation in contemporary Germany.”
Asked about the significance of Cagatay’s photographs, Nocke says “His photographs document work, community and family life in 1990. His images help us today to understand much better the living conditions and challenges the second generation was facing.”
She notes that “To look at them thirty years later and to include the children and grandchildren of those portrayed by Çağatay, was especially appealing to us in order to show a full picture of the story of Turkish so-called guest workers in Germany.”
Nocke says that they chose Ergun Cagatay’s art to represent Turkish workers in the 60th anniversary of Turks migrating to Germany to serve as workers because “Cagatay created the most comprehensive photographic documentation of Turkish-German immigration and life within the Turkish community in Germany.”
She says that his images, taken in 1990, “were the ideal starting point for us to look at the larger themes of '60 years of Turkish-German life in Germany' and to connect past and present.”
Nocke highlights another important aspect to Cagatay’s work: “He visited Germany in a crucial time: shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before German reunification. The photographs capture the period of upheaval as Germany transformed into a multicultural society and on a timeline can be found right in the middle between 1961 and 2021.”
The exhibition, first organised by Ruhr Museum, can be viewed at Taksim Art Gallery until December 31, 2021, while it will be on display at Goethe Institut Ankara from December 17, 2021 to January 28, 2022.
THUMBNAIL PHOTO: A protest against the new foreigners’ law in Germany, Hamburg, March 31, 1990. Ergun Cagatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg
HEADLINE PHOTO: Two mine workers right before their shift ends in an old personnel vehicle, Walsum Mine, Duisburg. Ergun Cagatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg