Interviewed by Kim Kieun
From From Seoul, South Korea
-The subjects debated within your photographic projects are quite diverse, but still you are focused on certain topics – like the inner life of Istanbul, which is the city where you live, the relations between individuals, the complexity of human emotions or the hidden stories inside a group or community. Tell us how you choose the subjects you are working on.
The choices also have multiple reasons, that are categorically quite different from each other. I have chosen a fragmented life between architecture, design, art, and activism. My artistic and photographic practice becomes at times a research tool and at times a personal release for the unutterable urges and desires that I feel. I try to look beyond the day to day politics, I focus on the background, so to say, to be able to ask questions that are beyond the polarities that contemporary politics offers.
-As a photographer, how do you perceive the relation between images, visuality and social media that is one of the dominant narratives today?
The abundance of images still excites me; yet, I am quite sad that the arts education in high school compared to education in literature is so shallow that people echo each other's visuality, which is already a copy of a certain artistic style and attitude without any knowledge of origin. A normal high-school student in Turkey would have a certain knowledge of at least classical literature from Turkey and the West, whereas their knowledge on visual arts would be close to naming a couple of painters, like Picasso and van Gogh. In a world that is becoming more and more visual, high school education in arts might be a way to create a richer popular visual language.
-Architecture plays an important part in your practice, being an entry point in discussions around gentrification, gender or memory. How does architecture communicate through photography and how does photography communicate through architecture?
This is a very big question. If we consider the invention of photography as one of the locomotives of modernity, we can understand its relationship with architecture as responding to the accelerated urbanization. Architecture and its transformation were other locomotives of modernity. Both fields lie within a cross-section of art and science. I think that they are both rich structures that can mirror important aspects of society, so they are both suitable as a metaphor.
-Can you pick three issues that the Turkish young generation is confronting itself with? Providing a small explanation will make it easier for us to understand.
Definitions of freedom and democracy.
As all around the world, the shortcomings of parliamentary democracy are felt deeply in Turkey, with a government that is reacting in front of socio-technological developments as well as in front of new issues regarding gender and ethnical identity by choosing a suppressing attitude. Navigating through this suppression will be one of the most important challenges for us.
The second seems less imminent, but should actually be our biggest priority. Climate change will make life very difficult soon and the awareness in Turkey lies currently quite low, where the expectations from the middle class are still very ambitious and gluttonous, playing in the hands of neoliberal policies that don’t regard the environmental impact of the continuous economic growth.
-Surface Phenomena, Nothing Surprising, Kaza ve Kader are three distinct projects in which you intimately relate to Istanbul, trying to understand its evolution and to determine how history leaves traces on the inner and outer peel of the city. Can you tell us more about these series?
In its essence, my work is about reframing the everyday, the common, the ordinary that is about to be forgotten. I rearrange the relationships between them in order to offer new perspectives on what we usually have to rush by and disregard. I am a photographer from Istanbul, I lived all my life in this city, I don’t really have anywhere else to go. Having studied architecture, documentary photography and history, I am trying to offer a holistic view of the city I grew up in, and its position within global events and sentiments.
To this end, I have built a series of images that would try to evoke local feelings and concepts refraining from exoticism, trying to create archetypical images of quotidian local situations and structures. For me, photography is more comparable to literature rather than visual arts.
In contemporary Turkish, “Kaza ve Kader” can be translated as “Accident and Destiny” but when one considers the Islamic connotations of the words, they can be interpreted as “Event and Outcome” as well. Where “Kaza ve Kader” investigates concepts of accident, randomness, and causality, “Nothing Surprising”, a series I started in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, deals with the notions of crisis and resistance in a more evocative way. My work on “Nothing Surprising” ended with the Gezi Resistance movement, where I chose to help build barricades instead of taking pictures. Most of the places that were depicted in these series were actually areas of urban conflict that I chose to display without any verbal suggestions. “Surface Phenomena”, the new volume in this trilogy, will deal with issues of ecology and technology trying to reveal artificial dualities that limit and shape our discussions regarding the idea of progress. The common aspect of the three series, or in fact, the relevance of the themes I mentioned, lies in the local context mirrored by these images. To a foreign eye, the relationship is hard to see, these are just images of contemporary urban landscape, but to an Istanbulite, the relationships are clearer. I am interested in placing my narrative, accepting that a lot gets lost in translation when displayed somewhere other than Istanbul.
-Another interesting aspect of your work is the way you treat coincidence and chance encounters. From your point of view, is the contemporary individual still open to chance and the unexpected?
It is irrelevant whether the contemporary individual is open to chance and the unexpected. Independent from one’s ideological position, life is chaotic and embracing what the day and the night and the seasons and the years bring, allowing this to also change the art that I am producing. It is the only way that I can deal with this uncertainty. I often get amused when I read artist’s statements (including mine) that frame every decision as a conscious one. Trusting so much on one’s own mental structure is problematic in itself, as we are quite remote from understanding the effects of material world onto our own bodies.