‘Super Erdogan’ – on the trail of propaganda fantasy

June 22, 2018. President Erdogan's image is everywhere in Istanbul as Turkey's fifty-five million voters are called to the polls. Nicolas Righetti/Lundi13

The Geneva-based photographer Nicolas Righetti explains the approach behind his new book, “Superdogan” – the title in reference to Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has held the office since 2014.

This content was published on May 11, 2023
with RTS

While some people photograph their vacations, capturing leisure images of waves crashing on the beach or sweeping mountain landscapes, Swiss photographer Nicolas Righetti is more interested in capturing the atmosphere of countries gripped in the iron fist of their strongman leaders. Among the countries he has photographed are Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea, Saparmurat Niazov’s Turkmenistan, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus, and more recently Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey.

For his latest work entitled SuperdoganExternal link, he has focused his camera lens on Turkey and the fingerprint president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has left on the country.

Nicolas Righetti, author of the book "Superdogan" is also the founder of Lundi13 and a photographer. RTS

As Turkey is in the throes of a heated election campaign with the country set to elect its next president on May 14, his images capture a country struggling with its identity after two decades of near synonymity between country name and country leader.

What fascinates Righetti in these often culturally and geographically distant regions is not the authoritarian figures who govern them, but rather the image they project.

“I’m not looking for the character, the dictator himself. What I am looking for is the image of the dictator, which will be inscribed in the street, on tarpaulins, on statues. Sitting or standing, he can be multiplied ad infinitum and in all kinds of postures. What interests me is the fantasy of propaganda, what this says about the country,” he says.

“I think that is very clever. Erdogan is a political beast; he is a kind of chameleon. When he starts losing points, he can change himself. Showing up on a 10 x 10 metre tarpaulin would surely be something counterproductive, and he has understood that".

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His work on Turkey has taken him to a country far removed from the totalitarianism he observed during his travels in North Korea and Turkmenistan. But the omnipresence of its leader Erdogan is just as striking, with one difference. “Erdogan presents himself in a rather simple, banal, Western way with a suit and tie. He is always very clean. He is not at all in the same delirium as Kim Jong-Il or Niazov. He always presents himself in an intelligent way.”

This political intelligence was on display following the earthquake which occurred last February, "Erdogan asked to stop using huge images of himself. An election campaign is usually a rather cheerful thing, but since there was that horrible earthquake at the beginning of February, he asked for something more serene, more restrained”.

Exhibition and book

Exhibition, Galerie Focale, Nyon 20.4.2023 - 4.6.2023. Exhibition and discussion with the photographer, starting at 2pm, May 6. 

Editions Noir sur Blanc are the publishers of the book. It contains 112 pages with 50 photographs and contributions by photographers Joerg Bader, Kenan Görgün and Nicolas Righetti. The book is available in bookshops.

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