Portraits by Lütfi Özkök

Istanbul Modern presents a selection of portraits by the photographer Lütfi Özkök, internationally renowned for his portraits of authors and artists. Compiled from Özkök's archive in Sweden, the exhibition “Lütfi Özkök: Portraits” is on view at the Istanbul Modern Photography Gallery between December 21, 2019 – November 15, 2020.

Istanbul Modern is hosting an exhibition of photographs by Lütfi Özkök, who took portraits of figures who shaped the art and literature world in Turkey and abroad during the second half of the 20th century. While bearing witness to this period, the exhibition “Lütfi Özkök: Portraits” also invites viewers to contemplate the various meanings of portrait photography.

Compiled from Özkök's archive in Stockholm, where the artist spent most of his life, the selection features 89 portraits of 80 figures, among them 24 Nobel Laureates. The photographs selected for the exhibition start in the 1950s, when Özkök began to take photographs to accompany his articles in literary magazines, and continue through the 1990s.

Curated by Demet Yıldız, Head of Istanbul Modern’s Photography Department, the exhibition examines Lütfi Özkök’s relationships with his subjects through texts, objects and documents that accompany the photographs, and describe an era through the artist's personal story.

A photographer who was also a poet

Lütfi Özkök was also a poet and closely followed the worlds of art and literature. He communicated with his subjects before taking their portraits, and this is reflected in his photographs. Özkök maintained lifelong friendships with some of the figures in the exhibition, including Nâzım Hikmet, Samuel Beckett and René Char. By taking their portraits at different times, he attempted to record the changes in their faces as they journeyed through life.

His first portrait was of the poet Söderberg

Lütfi Özkök’s first portrait was of his poet friend Lasse Söderberg, whose photograph he took at the request of Hüsamettin Bozok, his publisher in Turkey, using his wife Anne-Marie’s amateur camera. The first photograph from which Özkök made a financial gain was his 1957 portrait of the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, when Söderberg invited Özkök as a photographer on his way to an interview for a newspaper. the artist thus took his first step into his career as a professional photographer.

Özkök’s famous portrait of Nâzım Hikmet is from 1959

Özkök shot his first and most renowned portrait of the poet Nâzım Hikmet photograph in 1959 in Stockholm. In 1960, Özkök attended the International Writers’ Conference in Copenhagen and began building his archive of portraits, which grew substantially as he attended other writers’ conferences. In 1962 Özkök took another set of photographs of Nâzım Hikmet when they met at the International Writers’ Conference in Florence.

Lütfi Özkök through the eyes of his granddaughter

The exhibition also features the 2010 documentary Poeten i Elefanthuset (Poet of the Elephant House) about Özkök’s life. Shot by his granddaughter Anna Juhlin, the film won the New Doc award for promising new director at the Stockholm Tempo Documentary Festival.

About Lütfi Özkök

Lütfi Özkök was born in 1923 in the Feriköy neighborhood of Istanbul. In 1942 he published the magazine Sokak (Street) with his friends Sabahattin Kudret Aksal, Fahir Onger, and İlhan Arakon. In 1943, he began a course in Germanic studies at the University of Vienna, but the following year the war forced him to return to Turkey. Five years later Özkök moved to Sweden after marrying his Swedish classmate Anne-Marie Juhlin, whom he met in France while studying at the Sorbonne. In 1953, Özkök coedited an anthology of Turkish poetry titled Brödet och Kärleken (Bread and Passion) with Lasse Söderberg. It features poems by Orhan Veli, Melih Cevdet Anday, Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca, and Oktay Rifat.

In 1977, Özkök was awarded the Art Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy. In 1986, his portraits of 207 writers from 37 countries in Mexico City were exhibited in Mexico City. In 1987, his portraits of 100 writers, 20 of them Turkish, were exhibited at the Yapı Kredi Bank Art Gallery in Beyoğlu, Istanbul. In 1996, Lütfi Özkök received the Swedish Academy Prize. In 1998, an exhibition of his work titled “Portraits of Contemporary Writers” was organized by the Istanbul Maçka Art Gallery. That same year, Özkök's portraits of thirty Nobel laureates were exhibited at the Swedish Academy’s Library during the week the Nobel Prizes were presented. In 2002, Özkök was awarded the Illis Quorum Medal by the Swedish government for participating in the exhibitions of the Fnac Photography Collection with his portraits of Irish-French writer Samuel Beckett and Beat Generation legend William S. Burroughs. In 2009 Lütfi Özkök was named European of the Year on Europe Day in Sweden. In 2010, 35 portraits of Nobel laureates were exhibited at the Nobel Prize Museum. Lütfi Özkök died in Stockholm in 2017.

The exhibition “Lütfi Özkök: Portraits” is on view at the Istanbul Modern Photography Gallery until
November 15, 2020.