Official Selection for the Rencontres d’Arles 2017 Discovery Award, to be exhibited 3 July to 24 September 2017 at the Atelier de la Mécanique, Arles, France.

Amid the crackle of automatic gunfire and the blast of blacked-out fighter jets piercing the sonic barrier was another, distinctly human sound that signalled to Turks a military coup was underway on July 15, 2016. Throughout the long, terrifying night, imams in Turkey’s 85,000 mosques chanted the dirgeful sala, recited in the Ottoman Empire during wartime but heard only at funerals nowadays.

For some, the disembodied azan resonated ominously as they huddled at home, fearful of bombs raining down. For a few thousand men and a handful of women, it was a call to arms to resist the dark forces of a military that had last intervened to seize power a generation ago. Their rush to the streets ensured that Turkey’s new social religious order would stay firmly in control.

In an image from Guy Martin’s The Parallel State, the British photographer’s new collection of work on Turkey, a man dressed in street clothes, his back to the camera stands in a dusty room. Only the sarik on his head hints that he is the imam; without it, he could be a janitor in a broom closet. All the power flows through his microphone, with its capacity to stir people — especially when we’re offline in a country that throttles the internet when the government perceives a security threat.

Martin’s work focuses on the duality of modern Turkish life: the seen and unseen, the interplay between fact and fiction. The truth rarely occurs in front of the camera, and Martin does not tear back the curtain obscuring the facts but lingers on the shadows dancing behind it. The result is disquieting but far more genuine than anything we can watch on TV or read in a Turkish newspaper.

The truth rarely occurs in front of the camera, and Martin does not tear back the curtain obscuring the facts but lingers on the shadows dancing behind it.

In his work on Turkey’s wildly popular soap operas, he does not seek to capture actors in character, mid-scene, but documents them in their state of limbo before the director’s call for “action” or after he shouts “cut.” The same rules apply to his political and street photography. Martin does not break the fourth wall, but peers around it, treating it like a veil and not a barrier. He recognises the value of photographing reality like a soap opera in a country where politics is theatre.

Narrative arcs that lead nowhere until they end in a character’s sudden demise. Mortal enemies who were once close consorts and previously unthinkable dangerous alliances. Dazzling opulence on display, paid for with shady sources of income. Are we watching a soap opera? Or is this the news? In Turkey, it can be hard to tell. During much of President Tayyip Erdoğan’s 13 years in power – first as prime minister, and, since 2014, as head of state – the country has lurched from crisis to crisis. Week in and week out ends with a cliff-hanger, and we tune in to see the latest saga.

Even the coup was mistaken for a staged drama. The hashtag #darbedegiltiyatro (Not a coup, but theatre) trended on Twitter at the same time rogue troops commandeered F16s and tanks to kill 240 people, mostly civilians. An estimated 100 putschists also died in the night-long spasm of violence.

The coup was the culmination of years of polarisation and pent-up anger on all sides of the political spectrum. For a brief period, the opposition rallied around the mercurial Erdoğan, 63, who escaped a commando raid to take him hostage (or worse). He was the only person strong enough to guide the battered nation, friends and foes seemed to agree. But the aftermath wrought more turmoil as a dominant Erdoğan, strengthened with emergency powers, began to take down his enemies en masse.

Some 35,000 people have been jailed and 100,000 sacked from their jobs in the civil and security services. Companies worth tens of billions of dollars have been liquidated or seized. Leftists, Kurds and journalists have all been caught up in the dragnet, but the main targets of Erdoğan’s ire are the suspected followers of his former ally, the cleric Fethullah Gülen.

For close to a decade, both men worked together to undermine the stranglehold the secular security state had on power, but fell out when the spoils of power became too rich to share. Gülenists had allegedly spent the last 30 years infiltrating the bureaucracy, educational institutions, the military and politics. After the coup, journalists were accused of disseminating Gülenist propaganda through subliminal messages on television. Accounts emerged of military men spending decades engaged in taqiya, the practice of denying religious beliefs to avoid detection. They downed glasses of raki, took their wives to pool parties and performed prayers five times a day by only moving their eyeballs. Erdoğan dubbed their hidden network “the parallel state.”

The confusion itself is the story: to disrupt things that we know, to tell different, opposing stories in a deliberate attempt to confound people.

“I wanted to call this project The Parallel State for so long. Then, after July 15, this idea that the enemy was in plain sight and yet you couldn’t see them preyed on the fear of the other,” Martin says. “The confusion itself is the story: to disrupt things that we know, to tell different, opposing stories in a deliberate attempt to confound people, forcing them to align with one group rather than another.”

Martin eschews the explicit violence that plagues day-to-day life in Turkey, hit by bombs, scarred by a Kurdish insurgency, reeling from the failed coup. Yet menace looms in many of his images: bullet holes, separatist graffiti, smashed up utility boxes. “How much violence can I reveal but not show it?” Martin asks.

Text excerpt by Reuters Turkey correspondent Ayla Jean Yackley for nineteensixtyeight.

More coming soon…

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