Playing, protesting and photographing at the same time:
A Closer Look at the Work of Alp Peker
By Serdar Darendeliler
I have been staring at this photo for a while. I see a person trying to white out their tear drops. They somehow look miserable, but strangely confident and content at the same time. I don't know them. In fact, it's the first time I've come across this artist. But the portrait reminds me of someone from the past. A child. A child I don't know either but whose painting used to hang on almost every wall in the world, even in Turkey. A painting that was thought to be cursed. It is said that whoever keeps the painting in their home, the weeping child will bring destruction. How can such a cute little boy be the cause of such bad things? Probably an urban myth. Why does this photo remind me of this painting? Just because the person and the child are both crying? Maybe because the photo looks like a Renaissance painting. Or because the person and the child both look so innocent.
This photo by Alp Peker also reminds me of a series by Sam Taylor-Johnson (formerly Taylor-Wood): Crying Men (2004). In this work, famous Hollywood actors are crying in front of the camera. Yes, they are just acting, as they do in films. In a world where we're told that men shouldn't cry in public because it's discreditable, they do it on camera. Although this notion—men don’t cry—has changed somewhat in recent decades and men crying in public has become more acceptable, it is still seen as a weakness. However, if you look at human history, the notion—men don’t cry—is something quite new. It's a modern phenomenon, thought to be a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. Thanks to modern gender roles then, men have had to hide their crying in order to appear emotionally stronger and more stable. Nevertheless, I have the same question as above: why does this photo remind me of this series? Probably because they are both, in their own way, trying to break the stereotypical gender norms. As art historian Linda Nochlin points out in her text for Crying Men:
"(...) these are just good actors obeying the director's orders and performing. The woman artist has control over these powerful males; they weep at her bidding. (...) Taylor-Wood, then, is confronting a subject that has been underground, aberrant, until very recently.” 
Similarly, Alp Peker wrote on Instagram under another photo of theirs titled Sitting and crying with grandfather, and I believe this short quote also nicely fits the above photo: “It's a photo about men being able to show vulnerability, since society teaches the opposite...”
As I said at the beginning, I had never heard of Alp Peker, or their work. The online exhibition Kısmet: New Perspectives introduced me to them. This photo, indeed a self-portrait as I figured out later, is from a series called Amel Defteri: A Notebook of Deeds. In Islam, it is a notebook in which all the good and bad things a person does in life are recorded and handed over on the Day of Judgement. Depending on the record, the person will be invited to heaven or sent to hell. Could it be that the title points to a gap between religion and the new generation? Or is this just the artist’s diary in which they record what they do and how they feel?
Throughout the series I see a lot of young people. Probably people from the artist's close circle of friends. Peker uses simple, everyday, ordinary objects such as tea bags, price tags, post-its, ribbons, keycaps, toothbrushes, birthday candles, screws and even Haribo bears to create portraits of their subjects. These are colorful, vibrant, mostly close-up, awkward portraits. These are not mere portraits of these young people, we do not know who they are or what they are involved in. But as the artist suggests, these portraits are a play with and commentary on current socio-political issues in the country. They are the artist's own way of protesting against the lack of human rights, growing discrimination and old-fashioned gender inequality. In a way, all those party poppers, bath fibers or cords and plugs are in the photos for a reason other than being colourful and funny. Although some of them are very literal, they resemble the lack of freedom of speech, the spreading of prototyping or the growing polarisation inherent in Turkish society.
So back to the white out photo. Is the person trying to erase the bad feelings that made them cry? Or maybe they are crying because of happiness. Would someone want to erase feelings related to happiness? I guess not. That’s why the person in the photo seems confident to me. So confident that they are courageous enough to try to heal injuries and forget bad memories by simply whiting the tear drops out. Just as Peker is trying to do with their work in a playful and performative way.
 Nochlin, L. (2004). “When the stars weep” in Crying Men. Göttingen: Steidl
About Serdar Darendeliler
For more than 25 years, Serdar Darendeliler has been active within the photographic field as a publisher, editor, curator, writer and cultural manager. With the experience and knowledge gained during Geniş Açı Fotoğraf Sanatı Dergisi (1997-2006), he founded Geniş Açı Project Office (GAPO) with Refik Akyüz in 2007 to realise projects in the field of photography and visual arts. GAPO's priority is to create an environment of thinking and exchange that will help photographers develop their skills and lead to the production of new works through workshops, exhibitions and discovery projects. In 2021, they launched PLATFORM by GAPO, an initiative aiming to make contemporary photographic production in Turkey more visible in the international arena. He is a member of the International Association of Art Critics AICA Turkey and as an artist took part in a couple of group exhibitions.
About the artist
Alp Peker (1996) is a Turkish photographer and artist. They graduated from Ege University Medicine Faculty in 2020. Alp's work has been published on platforms including Adobe Stock, PhotoVogue, VSCO, Gucci Beauty, Lucie Foundation, It’s Nice That, EyeEm, and more. Their work has been exhibited by the University of Grenoble and Galerie Tracanelli Grenoble, France in 2019 and 2020. Alp also works as a Medical Genetics doctor at Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey.
This article was created in light of the multi-year project Kısmet, an initiative created and developed in close collaboration between Studio Polat and Foam. The project is inspired by longstanding cultural, diplomatic and economic ties between Turkey and the Netherlands. Kısmet delves into the diverse and intricate facets of Turkish visual culture, as seen through the lens of different generations of image makers.
This article is part of a series under the name A Closer Look, where a selection of creative professionals, with an affinity for visual culture from Turkey, reflect on an image from one of the Kısmet exhibitions.
Kısmet has been made possible by the generous support of the Mondriaan Fund.
Foam is supported by the VriendenLoterij, Foam Members, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, VandenEnde Foundation and the Gemeente Amsterdam.