Ege Ilicak: ‘every photo in the history of humanity holds its own unique story’

Street photographer and Affinity Photo user, Ege Ilicak, provides captivating glimpses into peoples lives through a single frame, his love of documenting the human condition and portraying scenes from differing cultures clearly expressed in his work.

Here he provides us with some insight into the mind of a street photographer and when his passion for the genre first began.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

I am a photographer focusing mainly on street photography and long-term travel projects to document the daily lives of different cultures using street and portrait photography styles.

I grew up and studied in Ankara, Turkey before I moved to Heidelberg, Germany, in 2010. Even as a kid, I was always interested in photography. The work of Magnum photographer Ara Güler inspired me deeply. Ara documented his city, Istanbul, starting from the 1950s up until his death in 2018. It was his work that sparked my photographic journey in 2009.

Since then, I try to visit a new country each year to document the local people in their native environment. I have recently completed my project “Dreams from a Northern Country”.

Can you tell us more about “Dreams from a Northern Country”? Why did you decide to focus on this subject in particular?

When I travelled for the first time to Russia back in 2015, I noticed there was something special with this particular nation. There was a harmony of religion, melancholy and dreams of a better future in people. It was this harmony that attracted me and inspired me to start my project Dreams from a Northern Country. I documented the daily lives of Russian people in the context of their social environment.

Between 2015 and 2020, I made a total of seven visits to Russia and spent over two months there in total. I travelled from St. Petersburg to Moscow and from there to different towns of the Bashkortostan Republic, the first ethnic autonomy of Russia located between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains. Dreams from a Northern Country showcases the human landscapes of the largest country in the world, with their dreams and wishes, their religion, hard-to-reach goals and their neverending hope.

“Dreams from a Northern Country showcases the human landscapes of the largest country in the world, with their dreams and wishes, their religion, hard-to-reach goals and their neverending hope.”

What fascinates you so much about lives on the street in particular?

The richly complicated streets of the world are a kind of poetic meditation for me. The complicated and fascinating motion that drives life also drives my passion for documenting it and sparks my inspiration. On top of that, there are moments that captivate me and drive my desire to press the shutter. Sometimes it is a story that unfolds among strangers. Sometimes it is a lonely person entering my frame, and sometimes it is the light that creates a cinematic scene on the streets.

“The richly complicated streets of the world are a kind of poetic meditation for me. The complicated and fascinating motion that drives life also drives my passion for documenting it and sparks my inspiration.”

A single candid frame can be so powerful and thought-provoking. How do you go about capturing the story or the magic of a situation?

For my travel projects, I read and study the culture and traditions of the place that I will be photographing before my departure. At the same time, I try to view as few photos of that place as possible to avoid taking similar photos. Having an unbiased view with a unique composition style is important.

If I am going to do street photography, I don’t have any particular plans for my frames. I improvise, like a jazz musician, while walking on the streets. I keep an open mind and stop only when I recognise a good composition. I walk, observe and wait, remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the little surprises of life awaits just around the corner for me. And most of the time, the magic of the situation is waiting there for me too.

“I walk, observe and wait, remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the little surprises of life awaits just around the corner for me. And most of the time, the magic of the situation is waiting there for me too.”

For street portraits, the story is a bit different. When I see someone on the street that I think is special, I don’t hesitate and immediately ask if I can take a photograph. Usually, I have just a few minutes, but those few minutes can become a special visual conversation between me and the people that I am photographing. When this chemistry is there, a magical shot happens.

Do you ever envision a particular shot beforehand, or is it always opportunistic?

I envision a lot of particular shots when I find the perfect place for a photograph. However, it may take hours to complete even a single composition. Once when I was visiting Montpellier, France, I found an amazing place to shoot, and I remember waiting for a long time for something magical to happen. After an hour, all of a sudden, an old couple entered the frame, kissed each other, and left. It all happened within few seconds, and I was patient and lucky enough to be there to capture the moment.

On the other hand, there are some days when I just want to be opportunistic. Then, I walk 7-8 hours without a break and capture everything that the street offers me.

What’s the motivation behind your photography? Is it simple curiosity, seeking beauty or a drive to express a story or meaning?

I think the primary motivation behind my photography is my love of the visual arts. I simply love the aesthetics of photography, and being part of this creative process makes me happy. Secondarily, it is the love of documenting the human condition. Showcasing other parts of the world through my eyes to viewers is quite an experience.

Tell us about your first ever camera?

Sure! Back in 2008, I flew to Singapore with my family. My younger brother has always been interested in photography and dreamed of having a Nikon D90 camera, and my father promised to buy one when we got there. Once we were in the camera shop, my father wanted to buy me one too. Since I was not interested in photography at the time, I tried to stop him, but I had no chance. After a long resistance, he convinced me to buy a cheaper camera, the Nikon D60. That was my very first camera, and I still keep it today.

What’s your go-to equipment now?

Presently, I work with two cameras. For my digital work, I use Fujifilm x100F; for my analogue work, I use Nikon F100.

Why did you decide to focus on candid or street photography in particular?

There are no stories without humans being involved. And I think there is not a single photograph in the memory of humanity without a story. From that philosophy, I decided to focus on candid and street photography to capture the stories of people.

Do you have a favourite photograph to date? What’s the story behind it?

I think my favourite photograph to date is a portrait of a barber in Havana, Cuba. In 2012, I was lucky enough to visit and travel across Cuba. As I walked the streets of Havana, a man in the shade caught my eye. He was a barber sitting alone in the barber chair, waiting for customers. What was shocking to me was that the barber salon consisted of nothing but a single old chair. And the man had only one pair of scissors. Without a conversation, he posed for me, and I took a portrait of him. This particular photograph was selected as National Geographic YourShot Editor’s Pick in 2013.

Is there a particular place you would love to visit to photograph?

Morocco tops my list of places I want to photograph. I recently watched Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky film, and it has triggered my urge to visit Morocco even more.

Who were your creative icons when growing up?

I have a lot of creative icons. Most important ones are Ara Güler, Steve McCurry, Alex Webb, Elliot Erwitt, Roger Deakins, Vittorio Storaro, Emmanuel Lubezki, Edward Hopper, Sebastião Salgado, Josef Koudelka, Joel Meyerowitz, Daido Moriyama, Shōmei Tōmatsu and Eikoh Hosoe.

Finally, what do you think makes a great photo, and what do you hope people take away from viewing your work in particular?

I think if a photograph can excite the viewer or make them think or smile, that’s the sign of a great photo. I hope people can make a special visual connection with my pictures and feel the emotions I wanted to express.


You can view more of Ege’s work on his website www.egeilicak.com or his Instagram @local.frames.