Review: The State of Ata by Chantal Zakari and Mike Mandel


Book Reviews, Photobooks


“Beginning in 1997 and continuing for twelve years, Mike and I, American and Turk, husband and wife, traveled to my home country in search of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, whose omnipresent image signals Turkey’s move toward Europe and the West that continues to this day. […] Mike is overwhelmed by his relentless presence in every public space. I easily recognize the stock iconic images - military hero, father of the country, visionary, and teacher.” These words by Chantal Zakari set the stage for The State of Ata, the book produced with her husband, Mike Mandel. (more)

The State of Ata is not your run-of-the-mill photo book. It’s not a gallery show on paper. Instead, it might be best described as a long meditation that uses photographs, reproductions of posters, newspaper, postcards, drawings and images, and texts to investigate modern Turkey - a country still struggling with its own identity, with balancing religion and modernity. Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, stands for that struggle - and his image can be found everywhere.

I’ve never been to Turkey, but the various photographs and reproductions of Atatürk’s image seem like a very weird mix of basically each and every way of iconography I’ve ever come across, ranging from standard posters to statues to the kinds of sports-stadium displays we usually associate with countries like North Korea. I can easily see how Mike Mandel reacted to all of those images the way he did.

The various non-photographic images in The State of Ata aside, even the photography itself cannot be described in simple ways. There are b/w and colour photos, there is very formal large-format work and heavily pixelized imagery… I can’t remember a book where someone would be so happy (and so daring!) to mix so much seemingly different work - and pull it off! Chantal Zakari and Mike Mandel clearly are presenting the work in the best possible way, learning about what holds a country together (or might tear it apart) has not been this interesting in a while! Impressive!

The State of Ata, photography and text by Chantal Zakari and Mike Mandel, 272 pages, Eighteen Publications, 2010