Examination of the Present State of Photography Training in Turkey and Anticipatory Recommendations

* The paper text submitted at the “Outlook on General Photography Education in Turkey” Symposium organized by PTFD / Professional Promotional Photographers Association, on March 09, 1993 at Mimar Sinan University.


In order to be able to explain the structural causes behind the transformations in the education system at the macro-level, the dilemmas in the general fact of training ought to be briefly examined in the process of the social change. As such, the issue is not only limited to photography education, but is spreading throughout the whole educational arena.

Education aims to improve human talents to the extent of the possible, as well as to maintain the continuity of communities. In this process, the accumulation of culture is conveyed to the future. This age old, effort is still valid today. Education is an issue still being considered and discussed today, that almost every society has mobilized in order to solve its problems. This mobilization is in the name of a better education, an increasingly healthier society and a higher humanity, it seems that it will always continue and must continue as a central theme of investigation and discourse.

In our country, the image of this international struggle aiming to reach a rational level is not heartwarming at all. Beginning in the 1950s, the entire education system has been turned into a scratch pad with constant changes in line with the interests of political power. In the educational setting, it is necessary to make the changes that the epoch demands. However, these changes should not separate education from its humanistic and social goals, of its entire purification of the democratic content. One other meaning of being contemporary is passing beyond the era.

The negativity observed starting from primary and secondary education and extending up to higher education, has particularly affected the institutions that provide high level art education. The importance given to national education in the last few years is at a dimension that cannot be underestimated: Accordingly, the establishment and multiplication of Fine Arts High Schools, which are important developments as these schools are going to feed art institutions in the future, and the amendment of the Higher Education Law No. 2547 are promising developments. But among these developments, there seem to be no issues directly related to photography.

Today, education systems ought to have a dynamic but not static, of an innovative and not traditional structure. When we look at photography education in Turkey as a whole from this point of view, we cannot see a healthy structure that is in line with the said description. The essence of the complaints raised over time is that education cannot keep up with the social and contemporary developments. Our country is still in the position of a country that imports the technological products of the age instead of producing or developing them.

In this case, in what kind of a modern system should we base photography education, the investment and production of which are structurally built to a great extent upon technology in our country, so that it can take place among knowledge societies with strong economies? In addition, institutions are not only national institutions but also common institutions of the whole world. Therefore, the education of photography with only a national dimension and based on the “we resemble ourselves” logic is unthinkable; its universal dimension has to be taken into account too. The question I have just posed comes up to the question, how can we modernize our education system at every level?

In order to answer this question, I gathered the examination in two parts: In the first part, the programs applied by the theories that provide photography education and training in our country were evaluated in terms of the stipulated aims and objectives. In addition, opinions were expressed on the education / training program of the Department of Photography of our University. In the second and final part, recommendations directed to solving educational problems were presented.

Part One

Photography training in the West falls in with the new era initiated for the first time by Daguerre in 1839. In this period, photography was held open for examination and research under a scientific discipline, at the French Academy of Sciences. Thus, besides technological development, educational institutions also started to take their place in the west.

The photograph which started to be used within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire shortly after its invention was not acknowledged due to one or other reason.

The institutionalization of education, which is the first and foremost prerequisite for photography to fulfill its social and artistic functions, being delayed when it is primarily supposed to come first.

Depending on this important factor, the acceptance of the fact Photography As Art/ Art As Photography in our country has been delayed by 150 years. The pathetic picture of this situation is unveiled: A photography environment that is more alienated to itself and its audience day by day, wherein the works produced cannot be maintained…

We see that the Department of Photography founded about 15 years ago under the roof of the Faculty of Fine Arts of our University in line with the aim of enabling photography to fulfill its social and artistic function, and gave its first graduates ten years ago, does not actively undertake its share of the role in the formation of culture / art environment in our country. Before examining the reasons of this situation in the cause/effect relationship, let’s take a look at the countrywide view:

Article 5 of the Law no. 2547 on Higher Education stipulates the education of fine arts in all universities. The extent to which this article has accelerated the widespread art education that is aimed at is an issue to be discussed at length. In this context, the fact that the institutions providing photography education in our country cannot become widespread is again based on this cause. If there are no sources to educate people with academic formation in a country, you will not be able to achieve academic excellence. There are two more institutions founded on the existing manpower and continuing their independent photography education in our country. One of these is providing education at the undergraduate level at the Izmir 9 Eylül University Cinema – TV and Photography Department. The other one is the Photography program providing education at the associate degree level, i.e. two years at the Yıldız Technical University Vocational High School.

In all three institutions, since the goal and objectives of photography education are not laid out perceptibly and chronologically; the institutions produce people who know a bit about each subject and are not able to examine any subject in depth, and specialization which is the main requirement of the age is not emphasized.

The Yıldız Technical University Vocational High School Photography Program, which provides two years of education at the associate’s level, aims to educate intermediate manpower for the usage areas of photography. Although the implemented program does not fully coincide with the foreseen aim, I believe that Mr. Mehmet Bayhan will soon overcome this paradox with his experience. This may be possible by converting the associate degree into an undergraduate degree. In the years to come, I hope that this thought -this may also be Mr. Bayhan’s aim- will be realized.

İzmir 9 Eylül University Cinema – TV and Photography Department differs a lot in terms of the program applied. In the first and second years, the student receives the general culture and basic theoretical knowledge of cinema – TV and photography together, in the third year, selection is made among cinema – TV and photography and the student graduates from the branch he selected. This model is implemented throughout Germany and is successful. However, in our country, the success rate of a similar model applied in İzmir is quite low. The reason for this is that the current program is not at the level to respond the question, what type of a person are we raising? The inadequacy of physical structure, lack of technological investment and lack of manpower with academic formation are the main reasons for the education to remain at theoretical level.

Today, the professional fields have become integrated with the developing technology and in this sense obliged education to direct towards specialization. If the fact that art has been given definitions, interpretations and evaluations in the form of essence, form and conceptually outside or beyond the ordinary during the transition to the contemporary order, is taken into consideration; we are always confronted with the need for a continuous renewal in the educational programs aiming at giving art education.

When we examine the examples in the West, we can see that the purpose of photography education is not only directed to educate professionals and to provide an artist formation, it also comprises non-formal education. Because one other purpose of education is to help the preparation of a suitable culture/art environment for the students who will graduate in the future by calling out to the level of culture that is outside the educational institutions.

I wonder, how much of this goal can the Department of Photography, at the Faculty of Fine Arts in our University, realize?

We can find the answer to this question in the lines on the first page of the exam guide, which is distributed to candidates who will take the special aptitude test for the 1992-93 period, indicating the purpose and goal under the name of Photography Education/Training Program. It is said:

“The Photography Department Program aims at raising the artist having the knowledge, skill and ability at a level to respond to the rapidly increasing need for the photography artist, in its four years education period.”

In this definition was it intended particularly to create a conflict of concepts, or were the concepts chosen randomly to be seen as competent and scientific by the candidates? Moreover, disciplines such as management, marketing, and communication theories that include this definition in the form of three unknowns also are not included in the education program.

Elsewhere, the aim is clearly revealed as raising photography artists.

It is quite easy to just string words together or list goals and objectives. The important thing is to give vitality to those words in the structure of education. If the purpose is to raise an artist, it is necessary to start the artist in education in the first year and to continue with the personality that has become evident in the next years. If the aim is to direct manpower to the professions where the photograph was prominent, then the education program should also be directed towards this goal. The essence of the education system: Should not be based on the principle; Let them graduate, no matter what the student does. According to the research I have carried out, only 5% of 81 students who graduated in the last ten years had their names mentioned in the art scene. Whereas 22 % of graduates do not work in any field related to photography.

Part Two

The fact that universities, are the most important research centers of the country and the world, at times draws the attention of all those interested in photography, to the question of how our department fulfills the cultural / artistic activities. Until today, neither a step forward has been taken nor a program draft has been prepared in this regard.

Generally speaking, we are not a society that discusses and produces alternatives. Starting from this generalization and taking into account the difficulty of forming a culture/art scene in such marginal areas as photography, educational institutions have important responsibilities. Although this seems to be a difficult task, the artistic and intellectual accumulation to be created by the programs must be able to draw line of the photography of the country and also must contribute its share in the culture/arts scene of the country.

In this context, it should be ensured that the non-formal education which, cannot be realized at the rational level for today, is realized by the establishment of the Photography Department Application and Research Center. Thus, it will be possible to do research, examinations, applications, archiving, publishing, all among the aims of the education program, to hold exhibitions that overflow beyond the institution, to organize conferences and symposiums directed to the public, to arrange, translate, print and propagate the works of domestic and foreign experts of the art of photography and education.

The difficulty of photography training in our country and the meat of the problems are the result of socio/economic and cultural turmoil that becomes effective in every field. In these conditions, one of the leading problems is that photography training, the investment and production of which are very expensive due to its structure, is limited with education / training only. In this case, the principle of photography education taking place within production, i.e. the principle of production in education, education in production has to be adopted. In this regard, infrastructure and physical facilities should be provided without delay.

Contemporary education cannot depend on strict rules and traditions. Because, adapting to innovations and new developments is a requirement of contemporary education. It is a must to force, to break the traditional patterns if necessary, to teach new information.

One of the two elements of contemporary education is contemporary knowledge and the other is contemporary learning. Contemporary knowledge is the transfer of current, profession-oriented information, directly referring to the aim and the goal, directed to the professional fields, to the student. Contemporary knowledge suggests the development of programs in line with requirements. Contemporary learning is a teaching method based on student contribution, is investigative, and does not depend on a single source and rote memorization. In contemporary learning, it is the student who has to be active, not the instructor.

Whether the level of education is contemporary or not, is directly related to the artistic and scientific qualities of the instructors. For the academic staff in charge of education, it may be possible to renew themselves over time, by staying contemporary, and by being in the national and international science/art circles. Academic staff should consist of people who can apply the information and have it applied as well as being in a search and effort to produce new information, rather than of those only theoretically compiling and transmitting the information.

Educational programs should be re-audited in such a way that the information they are teaching is not reclaimed as applied home works but as it expresses the student’s secret internal potential.

If it is considered that the graduate education is expensive, the cost is high, and it is the institution that educates the gentry who will dominate the future of our country and universities, it will be seen that our institution has undertaken another difficult task. The most important bottleneck of graduate education today is quality. The current program, which is maintained in the form of a repetition of undergraduate education, as the primary measure to improve quality, needs to be reviewed again in a timely manner, to allow for specialization.


Contemporary photography education should take educating the human power on its own part in the culture/art scene of the country as the main goal.

Contemporary institution should be enabled to work in line with expectations of society. Programs must face the future and comply with international norms. Educational programs must acquire an interdisciplinary quality, be sensitive to the environment, and have a system that promotes the active participation and creativity of the students.

In that case, the symptoms are obvious and their treatment should be considered.

March 1993


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