Ahmet Sel – Oriental Illusions

Ahmet Sel‘s photography series ‘Oriental Illusions’ investigates the west’s orientalist gaze rooted in the past with reference to its relevance today and in so doing reflects on our subconscious at present.


Tellaks, belly dancers and zennes portrayed in this series are characters familiar to the orientalist gaze. Subjects are asked to take the stage and pose. However, these large format portraits are carefully designed to transcend mere portrayals of their subjects’ vocations.

To this end illusory moments from the past of an orientalist gaze are cleverly referenced in these scenes while the illusory constructs of such scenes are daringly revealed in quirky details. For example, in that gorgeous bath house where a certain tellak lies you suddenly notice the plastic Made in China blue slippers he is wearing, or you cannot help but notice that ‘far-out’ tattoo on some belly dancer’s leg who strikes a pose in her workplace that looks like a jewelry box lined with velvet.

These photographs that live and breath between two worlds are much more than the reflection of a memory frozen in time. Ultimately then they are about the uneasy confrontation of a postmodern and conservative society with nudity and eroticism.

More images and other interesting projects on Ahmet Sel’s website.

Ahmet Sel is born in Turkey in 1956 and he explores the field of documentary photography. He settled in France in 1981. Between 1990 and 2000, he lived in Russia where he was a correspondent and bureau chief for Sipa Press.

In 2005-2006, Sel has been the chief editor for Sipa Press in Paris. Ahmet Sel is lecturer at the Media and Communication Systems departement of Istanbul Bilgi University and Bahcesehir University.

His photographs, distributed by Sipa Press, Fedephoto and Opale, are published in major international newspapers and magazines.

He won the “Fujifilm Press Photo Award France” in the portrait category, in 2003, and the Gold Award of National Magazine Awards Foundation (Canada) in the “Words & Pictures” category, in 2004. Ahmet Sel is represented by Pi Artworks gallery in Istanbul.

He also has been featured in Love Issue #5 with the Gens de Moscou project.