Tofaş is a famous Turkish car company founded in 1968. The brand, which was not produced in large numbers in the 1970s, had its most popular and productive time during the 1990s. The name Tofaş consists of the initials of the Turkish Automobile Factory Joint Stock Company.
On the other hand, Tofaşk stands for a social circle of people who modify and repair the Tofaş branded cars manufactured between 1987 and 1999, and who come together at various social networking platforms with their modified Tofaş cars. The young drivers add the word Love (“aşk” here is the Turkish word for love) to the end, giving a sub-culture expression to the owners of that brand.
For this young group of people, Tofaşk activities and races constitute the most important venues of social interaction, as they spend a significant amount of their time on their cars or on modifying them. The races are highly important in terms of the social status and hierarchy inherent in their group, and their audiences are very crowded and fanatic.
Here, Blind talks to Can Görkem who photographed these Turkish drifters in a series entitled “Tofaş”.
Who are these young drifters and where do they come from?
This group (Tofaşk) consists of young nationalist men, who are car-loving, living in neighborhoods close to Istanbul, and usually working in shifts in various factories. These young people from poor neighborhoods around Istanbul come together every weekend to exhibit their cars, race, and have fun.
The big parking lot behind the Istanbul Park track, which was built for Formula 1 races and used in very few races, is their meeting point. What they have in common is that they all love the same car: Tofaş.
In the 1970s, the design of the Fiat brand was purchased, and the production began jointly in factories in Turkey with various models with the names of the birds actually such as Serçe (sparrow), Şahin (hawk) Doğan (falcon), and Kartal (eagle) under the brand of TOFAŞ. The brand, which was not produced in large numbers in the 1970s, had its most popular and productive time during the 1990s. The name of the brand consists of the initials of the Turkish Automobile Factory Joint Stock Company.
The reason why these vehicles were preferred at that time was that a small number of foreign cars entered the country, and until the end of the 1990s, 41% of the cars in Turkey consisted of these vehicles. At the end of the 1990s, with the entry of foreign brands into the market, production under the name Tofaş was stopped.
Nowadays, however, the main reason for sticking with this car is that it is cheap and easily modifiable. But there is another reason: these vehicles are perceived as Turkish goods. That’s why I mentioned that these young people are nationalists. Tofaş automobiles also create a common ground for young people who unite on the flag, religion, and Turkish national identity.
How did you meet them?
In the last year of my photography education at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, I was looking for a subject to study as my graduation project. Throughout my university life, I continued my productions in the fields of social documentary and social reality and chose my subjects accordingly.
Tofaş has always maintained its popularity all over Turkey because of its vehicles and this community background. In my childhood, like everyone else, we had a Tofaş brand vehicle and it was considered a luxury. I was very interested in the fact that this luxury has turned into a subculture nowadays thanks to these young people, and I wanted to take a closer look at this community.
I started researching on social media and frankly, I was a little surprised when I saw how active they were. Events were organized and photos were shared on pages followed by hundreds of thousands of people. I immediately contacted them and met with them, and my project, which was going to last for 4 months, had thus begun.
How much time did you spend photographing them?
In the first place, I went 2-3 times without a camera, just to meet with them and find out where they gathered. I must have gone at least 15-20 times in 4-5 months. Some of them were research studies that I went for collecting information without a camera. I met really nice people there. There were many young people who put their own taboos aside and tried to find common ground with me.
We don’t see any women among these men. Are they talking about women?
At the first stage of my research, I came across some photos and social media groups called Tofaşk Girls, and I suddenly got more excited about this community rather than the Tofaş itself.
Photographing these girls while washing the car, sitting over the car, next to the driver, or posing in various bodily configurations opened a completely new world to me. I thought there was no place for women in this community, as I thought it was more of a male world.
Even though I didn’t bring up the subject in my first few visits, eventually the subject came up and I asked: “Where are your girlfriends? Tofaşk girls are at least as popular as you.” But when I said I have not seen them anywhere, I realized that there is no such thing. I learned that there are a couple of groups that shoot with local models for money just to pose and to increase the recognition of the pages.
During the months I was shooting, I only came across a boy with a girlfriend in a car once, but that woman never got out of the car for nearly 4 hours. Although they talked a lot about women, like they did about their cars, the women have no visibility in that male-dominated community. Their girlfriends were no different from their cars.
The guys who had girlfriends seemed to be troubled to bring their girlfriends to the gathering events. Women have no physical place, neither as spectators nor as members of this community.
Interview by Sabyl Ghoussoub
Born in Paris in 1988 into a Lebanese family, Sabyl Ghoussoub is a writer, columnist and curator. His second novel, Beyrouth entre parenthèses [Beirut in Parentheses] was released by Antilope editions in August 2020.
More information on the project via this vimeo link and on Can Görkem on his website.