Ahmet Polat

A model and a young girl blowing bubbles. Both are wearing coats in the same shade of pink.

A fashion shoot by Canon Ambassador and former Vogue Turkey creative director Ahmet Polat inspired by the psychedelic colours and patterns of the 1970s. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM) at 1/640 sec, f/2.8 and ISO200. © Ahmet Polat

Early into his photography career, Ahmet Polat realised that he couldn't hide behind the camera. "I'm a tall guy, 6ft 3in, so when I come into a space, people notice me," he smiles. "Photography pushed me into the world. It pushed me to develop social skills, communication skills. I learnt that everything that happens in front of the camera has to do with you."

This understanding has shaped the kind of photography Ahmet shoots. Since the earliest days of his career, identity and heritage – his father is Turkish, his mother Dutch – have been a crucial influence.

A creative child, Ahmet was always drawing and observing people as he was growing up in Roosendaal, a city in the Netherlands. "I didn't say to my dad that I was going to art school. I told him I was going to be a journalist because I knew that journalism was something he respected," Ahmet explains. To his surprise, his father presented him with a gift – a Canon AE-1 film camera and two lenses, a 28mm and a 50mm. "I never knew that my dad used to take photographs himself," he says.

At art school, photography became a tool for Ahmet to engage more deeply with the history of his father's homeland – a country he'd visited on family trips. After graduating in 2000, he packed his bags and headed for Istanbul. "My friends said, 'why would you do that?' Istanbul wasn't the place it is now, or the place it was 10 years ago. From a Western perspective, it was obscure."

Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Specialist areas: Documentary, filmmaking, art

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS R5

Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM

But, with so many museums and galleries opening, it was an exciting time to be in Turkey's largest city. Ahmet became part of an artistic community while shooting documentary projects about topics ranging from the Gölcük and Yalova earthquakes to the country's high society. His book, Gurbetçi, chronicled villages in Turkey and the Netherlands linked by immigration.

A portrait of a long-haired woman in a turquoise high-neck jumper with her head turned slightly to the side.

In 1969, Morocco and the Netherlands signed a bilateral treaty for the recruitment of guest workers. Ahmet's Postcards from Morocco project marked the 50-year anniversary of the immigration agreement, shining a light on the impact of the treaty on the societies and cultures of both countries. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/2.2 and ISO200. © Ahmet Polat

 A portrait of a grey-haired man wearing a blue scarf.

Postcards from Morocco mirrors the stories of Moroccans living in Amsterdam with the stories of those who have stayed behind in their home country. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/2 and ISO1000. © Ahmet Polat

"People talk about empathy a lot these days, but it is something you can train, you can learn," Ahmet says. "That's where the journey started for me, where photography became something more than just taking pictures."

This empathetic approach to the people he photographed, along with his talent and rigour, earned Ahmet the ICP Infinity Awards' Young Photographer prize in 2006. Refusing to be known solely as a documentary photographer, he started shooting fashion editorials for Vogue Turkey in 2009, ultimately becoming the magazine's creative director. "I wanted to incorporate Ottoman history into fashion photography. In the beginning it was a tough sell, but it got so much international support," he says. "My attitude was: I'm here to push boundaries."

 A black and white image of elderly Turkish men on a bus.

In 2000, immediately after graduating and barely able to speak any Turkish, Ahmet travelled to the villages around the city of Gaziantep, the birthplace of his grandfather, to shoot a series of black and white photos. Some 20 years later, Ahmet returned to capture Gaziantep again, this time in moving images and colour. The resulting exhibition, entitled Kökler (Roots), went on display at Kalyon Kültür in Istanbul, Turkey, in March 2020. Taken on a Canon AE-1. © Ahmet Polat

In 2015, Ahmet decided to return to the Netherlands with his family and take up the prestigious role of Laureate Photographer of the Dutch Nation – which saw him champion the importance of visual literacy in education – before founding his own studio in 2018. Today, Studio Polat works on many photography projects covering themes including masculinity and migration, in partnership with educational and cultural organisations, as well as museums such as Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum. Ever open to new ideas, new narratives and new ways of working, Ahmet remains steadfast in his dedication to the craft of storytelling.

What are you trying to achieve through Studio Polat?

"The idea is to create more diverse narratives and to support young talent. That's our ethos. We need more female photographers and we need more equality and diversity in all ways because it adds to the perspective."

Why is it important for you to work on subjects long term?

"Knowing more about the people you photograph changes the images you take, the way you edit and the way you contextualise your work. You need to know everything – the political and the personal. In different cultures, people have different ways of expressing themselves."

How do you decide which medium to use for a project?

"I'm always very aware of who I'm doing this for, where it needs to land. Not every project needs to be an exhibition. Not every exhibition needs to be a book. When you want to do something for a specific group, you have to think 'where do these people get information or get involved'? Sometimes we cross over with theatre because we want to engage people in a much more direct way, and then we use photography to contextualise the theatre."

You started as a stills photographer but now work across many disciplines. Where next?

"My ambition for the past five years has been to become a film director. I'm about to make my first feature-length documentary, called The Bastard. I love the idea that you now have cameras that you can also shoot films with, but that doesn't mean you're a filmmaker. You have to work on that. It's like photography – it seems simple, but it's so hard."

One thing I know

Ahmet Polat

"Sometimes you feel lost and that you're not doing the right thing because you have not had commercial success, or you feel that your stories don't matter because nobody is interested. It's not true. If you read interviews with me from 10 years ago, I said many of the same things I am saying today. Something made me feel the need to make the stories I was making. There will be a time when your work will become relevant or when you will find a better way to express yourself, to communicate your stories. Just keep following what you really believe is important."

Instagram: @ahmetpolatphoto

Twitter: @AhmetPolatPhoto


Ahmet Polat's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Ahmet Polat's kitbag containing Canon cameras and lenses.


Canon EOS R5

A professional full-frame mirrorless flagship camera offering photographers and filmmakers high resolution stills and 8K video. "Having AI incorporated that focuses automatically on the subject's eyes means you have a much higher rate of usable images, which is just amazing," says Ahmet.

Canon EOS R

A pioneering full-frame mirrorless camera that sets new standards for photographers and filmmakers. "Sometimes you only have 15 minutes or half an hour to shoot, so you have one lens on each camera body," he says.


Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

The RF lens that sets new standards in photographic performance, delivering supreme sharpness, extra creative control and a low-light performance that’s simply remarkable. "This lens is great for when I'm doing 3/4 portraits," says Ahmet.

Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM

For beautiful flattering portraits with razor sharpness and superb low-light performance, the RF 85mm F1.2L USM offers the ultimate in creative potential. "I tend to use this lens in the studio," says Ahmet.

Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM

An advanced L-series zoom featuring a very fast f/2 aperture and delivering exceptional image quality. "The quality is pristine, the colour is exactly what you want," says Ahmet.

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