Based on Victor Burgin’s indication of the difference between ”finding meaning” and “creating meaning” and his emphasis that this is the most important factor in differentiating the artists who use artistic opportunism and those who use photography as an infrastructure element, could you talk about how you moved towards experimental photography, what kind of efforts you made to expand the boundaries of what can be done with photography, and in terms of suggesting other ways of looking at an image?

Actually, the issue of the boundaries of photography and whether it is art or not, which started to be debated in the 80s in our country, was a current issue after the World War I in the 20s and 30s in the West. It is not surprising that discussions began so early; because although photography, is a tool that represents the development process of technology, it has also responded to objective, functional and clear expressions of machine aesthetics which influenced new art movements that have emerged and developed at the beginning of the century and determined their visual language. This process formed a basis for the great changes in the stylistic language of the art of painting. The most important debate at that time was whether or not art could be performed with photography, the product of technological process. The aesthetic scientist Karl Pawek’s comments in his book Totale Photographie, “Every work of art is a new manifestation; the photographer does not reveal anything new, what he does is to render the perceived reality visible. The artist reinterprets the truth; whereas the photographer transfers what he sees.” clearly reveals the intellectual atmosphere of the time.

However, it is a fact that every innovation in social structure, especially in the field of technology, which shows a never-ending development, has changed man’s view of objective reality and accelerated his efforts to go further. As a result of the hidden interaction between painting and photography, the new abstract expressionist language of the art of painting has influenced photography in a short amount of time. In this process, new visual expression possibilities were developed for photography and manifestos were published in line with the other face of the photography, open to experiment.

During my adventure that started in my years at the Academy as a student and continued abroad, I have been most impressed by the manifesto of Dadaist Man Ray. Man Ray wanted to create a free environment where everything that was forbidden was done, in line with his work and the ideas he had defended; so, he brought a new insight in the name of photography – considered worthless for being the product of a technological process – contrasting with modernist thought, which values to a great extent the purity of the traditional tools of expression. And this is the production of meaning, that is to say an approach directed towards achieving the other reality by using the technological process as a tool, that Victor Burgin has indicated in his article titled Photographic Practice and Art Theory. In the process extending from the past to the present, I based the foundation of my work produced both in intellectual and practical dimensions, upon the manifesto of Man Ray. In the 80s, when I brought the aspect of photography that is open to experiment to discussion with my exhibition entitled “Gerçek ve Fantezi” (1980) (Truth and Fantasy) at the Academy, all hell broke loose; I had moved a stone from its place that was established and functioning very well. Thus an irreversible process had also begun. Did it take a turn for the worse? No! I have led to the creation of a vivacious environment wherein problems were discussed on every platform until the 90’s.

Can you talk about the significance of the 1980s in Turkey, about how experimental photography emerged as a reaction to the idea that photography is a reflection of objective reality, about how it broke traditional patterns and created an alternative to the widespread views and about how various problems began to come to light in the field of photography, in terms of how this period was a turning point and a transformation? What kind of reactions did you get? Why isn’t it possible to form a platform for debate now?

In my review article making a comparative analysis of the years 1923-1995, the post-1980 chapter of which was published under the heading “1980 Sonrası Türkiye’de Fotoğrafçılık” (Post-1980 Photography in Turkey), in Volume 12th of The Post-Republican Communication Encyclopedia, published under the heading “Cumhuriyetten Günümüze Fotografi” (Photography from the Republic to Present) in 1996, I studied what was done in terms of photography in 3 sections: 1. Romantic period (before 1960), 2. Social Realistic Period (between 1960-80), 3rd Abstract Expressionist Period (between 1980-1995). It is a process that begins with the Republic, when the use of photography in visual communication systems and finding its field of practice, gaining wide currency, creating a language of communication fulfilling the needs of the contemporary society and transition from verbal-based communication to visual-based communication are realized in our country. After the Republic, we see that the village, which had determined the general trends between the late 50s and early 60s, turned to the big city until 1970s and the urban ghetto between the 1970s and 80s; and social realist tendencies gained importance in the period between the 60s and the 80s, integrating all these developments. In the same period, parallel to the overseas developments of the conceptual arts, we see that the only irreplaceable and generally accepted way of expression in our country was partly critical, mostly local and regionally inclined photographic images, carried by the 60s generation into the 70s and 80s.

The 1980s have left their mark on significant changes in our country: First of all, education, which is the most important prerequisite for photography to fulfill its social and artistic functions, gained an institutional identity at that time. The function of private institutions in supporting photography of private institutions, showed a rapid development after 1980, particularly in the context of incentive awards. Albert Kahn’s collection exhibition (1980), Bill Brandt and Jerry N. Uelsmann exhibitions (1984), André Kertesz and Paul Capanigro exhibitions (1986), Herbert List exhibition (1990) and many more, held within the framework of international cultural relations, have paved the way for breaking traditional molds and creating an alternative line in the efforts to be linked to contemporary world formations and trends. This period, in which universal cultural heritages are utilized, universal common values are bound to, a common expression language is used, and artistic movements developing abroad are adhered to, is entirely a period of opposition and a counter reaction in the name of photography. Although in the transition to the contemporary order, many concepts and disciplines have acquired definitions, interpretations and evaluations beyond and out of the ordinary, the passive nature of the obdurate stance of the pre-1980s, delayed the transition to the contemporary art scene and the flow of interdisciplinary information. As a person who triggered the 1980 period on behalf of photography, contributed and gave momentum to the creation of the theory- and application-oriented sub-structure of the era, my reaction was against the existing environment.

During that period, I met with different reactions inside, that is, at the educational institution where I worked, outside, in the photography community. In those years when photography education commenced and the first graduates were produced, they even tried to move me away from the Photography Department with the thought that I was starting to become a rival company. I was undaunted by all the attacks; after a while I ensured the settlement of the experimental photography discipline in the undergraduate program. This development was followed by the introduction of experimental photography into the undergraduate programs of Marmara University and Dokuz Eylül University Departments of Photography. For the reactions, I got from outside, taking a look in the ekşi sözlük (a Turkish collaborative hypertext ‘dictionary’) will be sufficient: There, they defined me as the relentless enemy of documentary photographers. I do not know whether this definition is still there, but my criticisms have always been in the direction that the documentary photography, which produces the aestheticized expressions from the perceived reality, will lose its documentary character.

The lively discussion environment of the 80s was cut off like a knife at the end of the 90s. The breakthrough, which already hinted at its presence on people and arts in the past, is felt now with all its weight, especially with the new millennium. Today, the feature of being an individual is the predominant element. I think that the dizzying development of information technology has isolated people, made them retire into their own world. In the virtual environment provided by the technology, the individual can now find answers to all kinds of questions, share their images, discuss them. From this point of view, we may think that technological developments are not an advantage but a disadvantage to mankind. While today the question how much documentary is the documentary photographic image in digital age? This question deserves reflection and discussion. But the point is that, no action is taken; everyone is busy spinning his own cocoon.

Could you open up the issue of the vagueness of the boundaries of the experimental photography such as moment/experimental, documentary/experimental, narrative/experimental?

Experimental photography creates subjective reality/new reality, which actually never existed, using the visible reality of photographic image, in the technical, aesthetic, semantic and pragmatic process that integrates the action of photography. This, at one point, is playing with images. Even if the approaches differ, the face of photography that is open to experimentation begins in the mind, continues with the practice, and ends in the darkroom. In this process, it is possible to produce narrative/surrealistic experimental work with abstract, semi-abstract or designed but never touched images. For example, like in sequential photos of Timm Rautert, Christian Vogt and Duane Michals, or many other artists…

So, you say “Art without experiment is art that cannot develop”. Could you explain what kind of an importance the realization of these experiments have in the context of contemporary art philosophy, so that photography can be more creative, more challenging, and more open to pluralistic readings?

Experimentalism is a term of philosophy, which has meanings like experiment, experience, sense data in ancient Greek. In the most general sense of art philosophy, an art theory advocating that the origin of all formations is based on experimentation; it is a teaching suggesting that the only source of human knowledge is experiment. The mind is a tabula rasa as long as it is not filled with experiments and experiences; that is to say that it is like an empty sheet of paper. The importance of experimentalism cannot be denied in the development of the art of painting. In this context, for example, as the use of the Pointillists (dot art) the seven colors that are separated after the perceived white light passes through the prism in their painting studies, or as the cubists’ experimental/analytical search for the disintegration of objects or groups of objects … Each art has a distinctive face that is open to experiment. Unless filled with knowledge/theory and aesthetics/creativity, the experiment to be made within the boundaries of the technology-based photography, the result is a tabula rasa. Today, when darkrooms are replaced by light rooms we often see negative examples with a pure smell of technique.

What kind of techniques and experiments have you tried in your production process? In this context, in terms of the idea of forming a series, can you explain us both the intellectual process and this long-running process of its emergence?

I scrutinize my long-term photography adventure in two complementary phases, before and after 1989. The process until 1989 is a period when semi-abstract, abstract expressions gained weight. In this period, I used many different experimental methods to support the creative idea that emerged as an intellectual and mental action from a theoretical and aesthetic point of view: Many ways from using a mask during the shooting phase to multi-shot, from local or total tone degradation on the film, to composite printing or collage…

In the year 1989, at the International 2. Istanbul Art Biennial, I opened the “Kavramsal ve Görsel İmgeler 1” (Conceptual and Visual Images 1) exhibition and I took a step to the period that I am in today. The most important feature that defines this period is that I utilized the collage technique as a formative process to make a creative, functional and new visual narration, by using known materials as plaster, fabric, metal, rope, mirror etc. coming from separate root and logic processes. But I must also say that the only image I could not give up in both periods is the image of cloud.

As I am not a person walking around with a machine hanging around his neck to capture/find meaning, like in Victor Burgin’s analogy of the hunters running after the rabbits, anything, a place, an action or a form of behavior that affects me can be transformed into a sketch or a preliminary design, at that moment in the mind or on a piece of paper. If the idea of integrating the design is in line with the framework of the subject I’m working on, I take it to my file to be improved. I have hundreds of such sketch studies in my file with defined top headings, waiting to be realized. I am thinking of displaying them all one day in an exhibition.

Could you tell us how the limits of experimental photography are pushed in the world and what the situation is in Turkey today? Are there artists you feel close to in terms of thought, or have taken as an example in Turkey and in the world, in the field of experimental photography?

Today, the only reason we are still talking about artists and photographers, of art history and photography history is the separation that modernism brings. When we look at the results of this, we see that photography is on one hand trying to authenticate the language of technology-based expression and on the other hand, making efforts to connect to new art movements that are developing. The number of photographers who are under the influence of surrealism in these two different, processes extending until today, and who are famous for their experimental work –also many of them are painters– is quite few. Man Ray’s solarized photography and rayographies, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s photograms, Bragaglia’s superlative shoots, Dadaist John Heartfield’s and Alexander Rodchenko’s photomontages are considered the most extreme examples of the history of photography. In the world, experimental photography has evolved in 4 different expression language axes since the 60s: 1. Abstract expression (Gottfried Jager, Heinz Hayek-Halke, Fritz Brill…), 2. Surrealistic expression (Duane Michals, Ralph Gipson, Arno Rafael Minkinken, Jerry Uelmann…), 3. Constructivist expression (Pierre Cordier, Kilian Breier, Roger Humbert, Karl Martin Holzhauser…), 4. Conceptual expression (Leszek Brogowski, Andrzj Rozycki, Peter Newetschek, Tim Ulrichs, Ugo Mulas, Dawid Hockney…)

In the digital era that we are presently in, the artist/photographer discrimination is a more conspicuous factor. In the context of the possibilities provided by the digital environment, today the photographer is able to produce experimental work, which is independent of the displays in the real world, and have technical and formal satiety. However, as it has been in the past, also today, as far as we have observed in international biennial exhibitions, it is expected from the artist to produce experimental work based on theory.

As I have mentioned before, Man Ray’s manifesto is the starting point that encouraged me to be oriented to experimental thinking. In most of my pre-1989 work, I cannot deny the influence of René Magritte. There are no artists that I have taken as an example in my post-1989 photo-plastics work.

In Turkey, there is still a strong idea of documentary photography to the tradition of a still very strong photojournalism. Could you evaluate this approach also thinking about the university departments that do not accentuate the experimental photography at all?

The socio-economic, political and cultural development of a country shapes the direction in which new technologies are to be used. In our country, the documentary photography tradition is an extension of the local and self-enclosed cultures the generation of the 60s have lived intensively, depending on the reason for the existence of the photography. In the social and artistic development process of photography, although the institutionalization of education in the west occurred immediately after World War II, a delay of 139 years is experienced in our country. As an art cannot develop without education, today the existence of documentary-oriented education programs in our country also has to be taken normally. Even if a different training program is taken into consideration, with which educated manpower will you carry out that program? Today, in the Photography Departments of a number of state universities have experimental photography as a discipline in undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Experimental photography is a discipline just as it is in Bauhaus; this discipline can be brought up to the school level within the framework of the possibilities.

Today, there are photography works produced only by starting from the poems of poets such as Baudelaire and Rilke. What are the sources you are nourished from in your personal production?

The creative idea that constitutes the sub-structure of my work can emerge as a result of any subconscious impulse at any moment of the day, as I aim to follow the process of the formation of the moment rather than taking its photography it in the direction of finding meaning within the reality I live in: Sometimes a place, sometimes relationships; certain forms of behavior that are intensified in these relationships, an event or a sequence of events, or an object may form the images of my works. For example, the “Dünya Hayvanat Bahçesi – Kartal / Kaplan / İnsan” (World Zoo – Eagle / Tiger / Human) work emerged upon the trace left after I visited the Munich Zoo.

I can say that I am a good archivist: I cut out and keep all or a few lines of news or reviews related to socio-economic and political issues that I am interested in, in the written/visual press; or I take notes of the lines of a book I read, and the moments of a film I watched that has affected me. For example, as the emergence of the works “Ve Bir Gün Gökyüzü Büsbütün Kararacak / And One Day the Sky Will Darken Totally” or “Bir Dönemin ‘Kara’ Siyah Nesneleri / Dark ‘Black’ Objects of an Era” that I have not yet opened for view in the art scene…

Self-portrait has a special place also in the field of photography. At the same time, it is also one of the project subjects you give to your students in your classes. What is its importance for you?

The self-portrait is bringing one’s self to the position of the subject of the work the person does. The self-portrait, being a solo play in art action takes place in a fictionalized scene arranged for the viewer, just as it is in the theater; in this scene, the person appears before you as the object/actor/model/artist and even as the director of the scene. When we try to read a photographic act in general and in a semiotic way, we see that all elements constituting that display have an indirect relationship with the other. In self-portrait, being a forward leaning action, the most basic work done theoretically is the removal of the entire indirect expression between the subject, the display (object) and the other. This is the most appropriate way of overcoming the detachment and alienation originating from the two-dimensional nature of photography.

The object that the person knows best and recognizes in life is, no doubt, the person himself. I find it important that the object is presented experimentally by a person who knows, recognizes it best, within the framework of an autobiographical expressive language.

In your lessons, what method do you use, what sort of experiments do you make to diversify the way your students see, to break the existing stereotypes of thinking and seeing?

I suggest to them a method that seems very simple but forms the basis of abstract vision in the photographic vision action. The magic tool, called a machine or a device, whether it has an analog or digital system, is designed according to seeing and storing what is seen principle of the eye; with one difference: Eye sees, binocular (double eye) i.e. stereoscopic/spatial view; whereas machine sees monocular (single eye) i.e. planar view. The starting point of photographic vision is to reduce the visual action of the eye to the visual action of the machine, thus to equalize the visual action. In order to realize the experiment, I have suggested, above all, it is sufficient to stop being a hunter and to watch the reality experienced/outer world with a single eye from a window in size 9×12 cm to be opened in a black cardboard of 18×24 cm. At least the semiabstract visual form will develop spontaneously after the acquired experiences.

You are supporting practice with theoretical texts. Thus, the student also learns the problems discussed in the context of photography. Perhaps it is beginning to gain a level to evaluate photography at the theoretical level too. Could you explain its importance?

I find this very important. It is easy to get the technology oriented practical sub-structure of photography: a course that lasts for a few weeks will help you to acquire the technique. But the real issue is studying the semantic structuring in the dimension of the philosophical thought, that enables the state of the object to be carried to the dimension of meaning of the mental activity by aesthetic structuring that integrates the personality that is exposed in the communication of the subject with the object. The work produced will be solid to the extent that practice is fed on and supported by theory.

Would you make an evaluation in terms of the points photography went and is going to, as the technology is progressively developing?

Developments in the field of technology have positive and negative aspects regarding the machine/human relationship. I think the developments with unpredictable outcomes are extraordinary. Today, there are none of the limiting perspectives imposed by the optical and chemical processes of the past. An environment that brings more freedom to imagination is presented to a person limited with the passive structure of photography, having no other anticipation but reproducing the reality. The device has been so developed that it is almost impossible to have a technically wrong image. Thus, while it was expected to enter a further concentration process on the object, machine and virtual dependency and trust have reached such points that in the process of perception of the external reality, nothing can be done without devices. The human has been made an extension of the automatic release of the machine. The consequences of this situation are worrying: While the images are expected to express the knowledge, experiences and values of the human factor behind the machine; the fact that they have shown us the empty talents that have been realized by the functions of the device and the virtual environment with a manner of an operator indicates the negative developments we will face today and in the future.

I would also like to add here that although I think that technological developments are fantastic, I am not a person who uses the opportunities presented in his work.

August 2009

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