Lonely Planet Writer

Photographer reveals remote Turkey's hidden side with these surprising and beautiful images

When most people think of Turkey, they think of bustling, historic Istanbul, the blue seas and warm beaches of the Mediterranean, or perhaps the phantasmagorical rock formations of Cappadocia. But little-known parts of the country are as just as stunning, as Turkish photographer Nadir Bucan shows in his images from the remote mountain villages outside the eastern city of Van, near the Iranian border.

Mother Aliye returns to the village of Alacayar
Mother Aliye returns home after milking in the village of Alacayar, Van. Image © Nadir Bucan

After finishing his studies in the Turkish capital city of Ankara, Bucan moved to Van in 2010 to work as a photography teacher at the city’s Yüzüncü Yıl University. “I was aware of the area’s traditional villages, mountains, lakes and islands, and as a photographer, this was definitely something I wanted to explore,” Bucan told Lonely Planet News.

A man walking through the snow in the village of Uzuntekne
In the distance. A man returns home after feeding his herd in the village of Uzuntekne, Van. Image © Nadir Bucan

Driving 70 or 80 kilometres into the mountains around Van, sometimes staying for a few days at a time in village homes, Bucan encountered what he described as “a kind of lifestyle very few of us have ever witnessed. Nature dominates the culture of these [rural] people and they exist quietly in a place where technology is not superior. They know how to face the harsh natural conditions and are able to satiate every need completely independently,” he said.

Boys and horses shrouded in mist
Lost in the mist. Boys clean their horses in a hot spring in Van. Image © Nadir Bucan

Bucan’s striking, dramatically lit images depict vast open landscapes and lives lived largely on foot and horseback, in places where heavy winter snows often cut villages off from the rest of the world. “I love photos taken in extreme weather conditions such as fog and steam which can add mystery to a photo,” Bucan told Lonely Planet News. “When I took my photo called ‘Lost in the Mist’, the weather was about -5 degrees. But the water temperature [in the hot spring] was +30 degrees, so this situation led to the steam.”

Boys on horsebak bringing the milk home to Van
On the way home. Boys riding donkeys carry milk from their herds to their village in Toreli, Van. Image © Nadir Bucan

Bucan says he will continue to work on the series, which he calls ‘Under the Shadow of the Sun’, as long as he lives in Van. He also has two new projects in the works, one capturing life in a Kyrgyz community in the region, made up of people who escaped from the Pamir region of Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War and settled in Van’s Ulupamir village in 1982. For the other, he says, “I would like to document story-tellers from oral cultures that often get lost.”

To see more of Bucan’s photographs, check out his website and Instagram account.

By Jennifer Hattam