Charlie Kirk, Katil Var

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2019 (here). Open spine softcover with hand-folded silkscreen dust jacket, 220×185 mm, 88 pages, with 51 tritone plates. Includes a timeline, and a single page insert with image titles and dates. Aside from the text on the back cover (by Ghaith Adbul-Ahad), there are no essays included. In an edition of 500 copies. Design by Loose Joints. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Charlie Kirk’s photobook Katil Var gathers together images he made in Turkey during the years between 2012 and 2015. Working as a photojournalist, Kirk tracked the chaotic energy of the ongoing street protests, political uprisings, funerals, and religious festivals in Istanbul and elsewhere, and documented the tenuous lives of refugees fleeing the devastation of the nearby Syrian civil war. His pictures consistently capture the raw emotion of the clashes in the streets, and the British photographer was ultimately deported by the Erdogan government in 2015 “for reasons of national security”.

Katil Var begins with an anguished howl, in the form of the snarling toothy maw of an angry dog, and is quickly followed by encroaching dark clouds over Istanbul, a graffiti tag of the book’s title (which translates to “there is a murderer”, referring to Turkey’s president), and a newspaper-reading subway rider wearing a rubber gas mask. With this grimly ominous opening, Kirk jolts us into a tensely attentive frame of mind, warming up for subsequent layers of conflict and despair.

The most straightforward and lyrically action-packed photographs in the book center on the intensity of the protests. Men sprint away from clouds of smoke, taunt unseen adversaries with fists and outstretched arms, and stand ready for another round in makeshift face masks and  plastic armor. The angry women are similarly fierce, smashing police shields with wooden sticks or defiantly carrying flags and courting TV cameras. But these singular moments quickly transition to the darker realities of physical clashes: eyes being flushed with water to wash out tear gas, faces and hands dripping with blood, and countless of looks of desperation, weariness, and dazed confusion.

Kirk’s indirect images of various protests are more symbolic, trading urgent action for more atmospheric and poignant asides. He looks to sunlight bursting through smoke and at water droplets blasting over the point of conflict, adding a layer of enveloping softness and grace to clashes of violence. He makes a nighttime portrait of a man with a clear plastic bag over his head, his face distorted by the sweaty suffocation, the makeshift protection creating its own reference to contemporary life in Turkey. And Kirk shows us a boy ready for another round of rock throwing, armed with a rough stone in one hand and a pair of balloons in the other, the combination of earnest rebellion and hopeful innocence captured in one frame.

When Kirk steps away from the activity in the streets, he often points his camera at the lives of ordinary citizens, but always with an undertone of unease. Kids play on the hillside behind a swing set, with a handgun left on the nearby table. Lovers snatch a kiss in the darkness, where the combination of graffiti and dappled shadows creates looming eyes that watch them. An older woman happily holds two cute ducklings, but with a rope noose ominously hanging over the wooden support behind her. And a group of young girls runs in all directions, the open mouthed scream of one girl turning fun into horror. Even a day at the beach takes on an eerie gloom, with a sunbathing man dozing in the sand like a crucifixion.

Still other images push the visual symbolism even further. Flash lit black and white dogs fight for dominance, mirrors search for departed loved ones or cloud reflections, and closed doors and covered eyes offer blockages and refusals to see. Lost hopes are embodied by a lonely trail of balloons on the surface of the sea and a majestic white horse dying by the roadside. And the psychic isolation of the refugees is reinforced by images of solitary prayer in the dust and a family cowering amid gun-toting soldiers. But near the end of the book, the gloom lifts just a bit, with girls walking arm in arm in the warm sunset (with piles of cotton candy in a nearby car) and wind blowing across wheat fields, perhaps pushing away the smoke and offering a sense of renewal.

The design of Katil Var is straightforward, placing the all-horizontal black and white images on either side of lay flat spreads. The lettering on the cover and title pages is bold and graphic, with the individual letters and numbers drawn with extreme thick and thin weights. And hidden inside the black jacket, a dripping paint graffiti drawing of tanks and protesters is yet another manifestation of the heightened emotional mood captured by Kirk’s photographs.

While images of protests (both at home and abroad) have become discouragingly widespread in our current days of unrest, Kirk’s photobook successfully opens our eyes to a particular set of uncomfortable realities. The story Katil Var has to tell about contemporary Turkey isn’t a happy one, but its human contours make the images feel surprisingly resonant and universal. This is a photobook that gives a face to the struggle, finding both urgency and poignancy in the all too familiar rhythms of contemporary resistance.

Collector’s POV: Charlie Kirk does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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