1900 - 1940



               “To produce a life history or to consider life as a history, that is, as a coherent narrative of a significant and directed sequence of events, is perhaps to conform to a rhetorical illusion.” Pierre Bourdieu

“Performing the Modern” constitutes part of a larger project “Dismantling the Archive: Representation, Identity, Memory in an Ottoman Family” on view at SALT Galata in 2014.

The project focuses on the years 1900–1940 of the Said Bey Archive. It encompasses three generations from the late Ottoman period into the early years of the Republic of Turkey. The exhibition attempts to understand how a family, as it passes through complicated years of war and a country in formation, expresses and represents itself in writing, photography, and material culture. It presents the viewer with the opportunity to examine how this family formed and preserved their memories, how these memories intertwined with the narrative of a young nation, and how members of the family constructed individual identities by delineating boundaries.

The photographs were taken by Mehmet Ali Bağana, husband of Said Bey’s granddaughter Nesrin. Compiled in several albums these images reveal life in the early Republican period. The sections in the exhibition: “Performing the Modern”, “Observing the Other” and “Remembering the Nation” were formed based on scenes from these albums. The online selection of photographs from “Performing the Modern” exposes the “new individual” of the Republic through the eyes of a family.

Said Bey

About Said Bey

Mehmed Said Bey (1865-1928) was a graduate of the Imperial School, today’s Galatasaray High School. He went on to teach there in addition to working as an interpreter at the Ottoman palace. In the words of the French historians François Georgeon and Paul Dumont, he was a veritable “caricature of a bourgeois Istanbulite”: there was a piano in his home; every day he noted down what he had done in his diary; he enjoyed going to the cinema; he arranged for his children to be taught French by a young mademoiselle; and in the 1920s he and his family moved to an apartment in the Şişli district.

Though Said Bey was not a heroic figure, politician, or artist, and he did not play an important role during the transition from the late Ottoman period to the early Turkish Republic, his archives relate the changing face of society at a significant moment in the history of the formation of Turkey. By exploring the numerous written and photographic documents that were carefully preserved by his family, it is possible to gain insight into the daily and familial life and new lifestyle attitudes of the period, making his archive an important subject for historiographical study.

Bağana family; Nesrin, Mehmet Ali, Bülent and Hatice in their garden in Keçiören, Ankara.

Said Bey’s grandaughter Nesrin and her family

Nesrin, the child of Said Bey’s daughter Semiramis and her husband Ziya Kocainan, was born in 1910. She married Mehmet Ali Bağana on December 16, 1927. Bağana studied agricultural engineering in Germany and was among the first high-level bureaucrats of the Republic who helped realize the land reform. Nesrin and Mehmet lived in Keçiören, Ankara. Their life was divided between their hometown of Istanbul and Ankara where they worked.

Bülent, the son of Nesrin and Mehmet Ali Bağana was born in 1929 and their daughter Hatice in 1932 in Istanbul. Representing the fourth generation of the family, Hatice Gonnet Bağana became a hittitologist having studied Archeaology and Art History in Paris during her father’s mission at the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 1969, she became a member of The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and taught at the Ecole de Louvre between 1997 and 2011. She has also participated in several research and excavation projects in Anatolia. In 2011 Gonnet Bağana donated her family archives to SALT Research.

Young Fiancées of the Young Republic

Young couple at the window of their house, Keçiören, Ankara
Young fiancées of the Young Republic
Young couple, Keçiören, Ankara
Young couple at home
Young fiancées, fall 1927
Young couple canoeing on Emir Lake, Ankara
Young couple in front of their house in Keçiören, Ankara
Young couple walking on a snowy day, 1930s

Safeguarding the Future: Children

Bülent and Hatice Bağana with their cousins Ali and Sait in the garden of Adviye's house, Moda, İstanbul, 1930s
Nesrin Bağana with her son Bülent and her daughter Hatice, at the house, Keçiören, Ankara
Mehmet Ali Bağana, with his son Bülent and his daughter Hatice
Bülent and Hatice Bağana reading a book
Bülent Bağana reading a note; Hatice Bağana writing a letter on the sofa, 1930s
Mehmet Ali Bağana reading a book with his son Bülent, 1930s
Mehmet Ali Bağana and Nesrin Bağana with their son, Bülent, relaxing in the garden of their home, Ankara
Bağana family walking around Keçiören, Ankara
Bülent Bağana and his sister Hatice Bağana, 1935
Bülent Bağana holding a suitcase, 1930s

Sound Bodies: Sports

For nation states, sport events that emphasize the health and strength of their people, are a way of proudly presenting their position in the world. Influenced by this political discourse, sport for Bağana’s family was an important activity since the 1910s, and family members, when aspiring to better themselves, engaged in many  different sporting activities.

Soccer team, 1920s
Trip to Izmir by first Galatasaray boy scouts. Mehmet Ali Bağana shown in his scout clothes, 1913
Güzin, Nesrin Bağana's sister, with her tennis racket on a tennis court, 1930s
A group photo of Mehmet Ali Bağana and Nesrin Bağana on a tennis court, 1929
Mehmet Ali Bağana, skating on the ice, 1910s
Mehmet Ali Bağana with his fencing sword, Hohenheim, Germany, 1910s
Mehmet Ali Bağana on a boat. Summer 1936

Modern Vehicles, Virgin Lands: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Modern states often invest heavily in infrascturture and transportation, not only to reinforce their economy but also to help transform the local culture. At the turn of the 20th century, a network of railway lines were built across Turkey, and at the same time cars became increasingly used and flying started to become accessible and affordable. Living a life divided between Istanbul and Ankara, the Bağana family often took the train between these two cities. They also explored the city’s peripheries and other areas by car.

Mehmet Ali Bağana in his automobile
Mehmet Ali Bağana with his son Bülent Bağana in his toy car, 1930s
Nesrin Bağana with his son Bülent on the Maslak Road, İstanbul
İstanbul-Ankara railway, Haydarpaşa, İstanbul, 1927
Uncle Hakkı, Nesrin, Aunt Müzdan, 1927
Yeşilköy, İstanbul

The Good Life: Entertainment, Parties, Social Life

During the early years of the Republic, women were encouraged to contribute to the cultural reform as enlightened wives or mothers. In community life, educated women and men are represented next to each other. The Bağana family’s photo albums depict scenes common to the period such as family conversations, dinners, leisure time spent with friends and outings to the seashore.

Söğütözü, Ankara
Teatime in the garden, 1932
Outdoor fun
Müzdan and Safi Arel at an outdoor meeting
Posing on the couch, 1930s
A lunch in a rural restaurant, 1932
Mehmet Ali and Nesrin Bağana with guests at teatime. Summer 1934
Müzdan and Safi Arel at the tea party, 1930s

Sea Bathing and Boating

Caddebostan beach, İstanbul
Kalamış, İstanbul, 1928
Kalamış waterside, İstanbul, 1928
Moda, Istanbul
Yorguli, Prinkipo, Istanbul
Beach, Istanbul
Boat tour


In a similar way to other regimes of the time, the founding of the Republic of Turkey in the 1920s focused on ways to transform the masses, and presented the notion of the “new individual” through photos confirming the popular saying “seeing is believing”. Mehmet Ali Bağana’s family albums, which are accesible at SALT Research, show us this complicated process of transition. They offer a glimpse into the life of a family well acquainted with European culture, and help us to understand how the family participated in the Republican process when representing themselves. Finally, although these albums focus on a different period, this online exhibition can also be considered within the timeline of an ongoing increase in interest in visual cultures in Turkey.

Credits: Story

Research — SALT Research and Ece Zerman

Credits: All media
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