Photography Education in Turkey

* Milliyet Art Magazine, June 01 1989, Issue: 217

An Overview of the Educational System

In this article, it would undoubtedly be very superficial to refer only to photography education. In order to be able to explain the structural causes behind the transformations in the education system at macro-level, the dilemmas in our education, in the process of the social change will have to be briefly examined. When the examination of the problem is so extensive, the issue is not limited to photography alone it spreads 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 multidimensional 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.

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 be in the form of deviating education from its humanistic and social goals, of entire purification of the democratic content. One other meaning of being contemporary is passing beyond the era. However, the statistics clearly emphasize that we are far behind: In the last decade, while the number of students in primary schools has increased by 22 percent, the number of primary schools has remained at around 11 percent. In the same period, the number of students in high schools increased by 35 percent, while the number of schools increased by only 14 percent. If we look at the report of the World Bank on Education in Turkey, the share of education in investments decreased from 12 percent in 1968 to 3 percent in 1985.

As a result of the political powers’ regard on education expenditures as heavy burdens for the state, an uneducated army of 11 million in Turkey of 50 million was formed.

Scientific activity -in a sense- has ceased after 1980, while Higher Education Institutions should be the centers where information and experiments are produced methods of producing information and experimentation are conveyed. Teaching staff, have become alienated from academic life. In Institutions of Higher Education, instead of generating information -in general terms-, conveying the selected limited information is desired. These institutions have important functions such as creating a cultural and artistic environment, as well as providing an individual with an occupation. Opinions should be set forth clearly suggestions should be discussed and brought to maturity. However, students are deeply occupied with examinations, attendance, tuition payment, nutrition, housing and similar problems. In such an environment, it has become impossible to think, to say what you think and to produce information.

Up to this part of the article, I have tried to convey the general picture of the education carried out at the level of primary, secondary and higher education, created today. Before passing from the general to the specific, I find it useful to refer to the art education, undertaking the role of a bridge in between, and to the ways in which theories carrying out this education function.

Art Education

Art education aims to express the artistic talents of the individual, to investigate the accumulated artistic values, starting from the past, to transfer these to the future and to assimilate the social-cultural development. Art education has reached maturity in accordance with the master-apprentice relationship in the development process of the societies. Traditional art education, carried out until the 19th century, was a system equipped with technical and theoretical knowledge, based on the hand skill of the individual. In this educational system seen in Italy, the apprentice was trained in line with the technological and theoretical knowledge of the master. It is undoubtedly not possible to mention specialization in such an educational system. We see that traditional art education has changed in terms of quality and quantity, with the industrial revolution. There are three main factors that paved the way for this change:

  1. The proliferation of general education and training, i.e. the far-reaching development of knowledge,
  2. The change of the social structure,
  3. Technological development of communication tools.

It cannot be denied that these factors have influenced art and changed its aim. Given the style, form and conceptual variability of art, we are always confronted with the necessity of a constant renewal in art education too.

In our country, today, the Faculty of Fine Arts, which is in the structures of 4 universities, provides art education. According to article 5 of Higher Education Legislation No. 2547, it was aimed to educate fine arts in all universities. In line with this aim, Faculties of Fine Arts have been established in many universities. The extent to which the new regulations introduced at the level of universities after 1980 have affected the institutions of art education and also the extent to which the 5. article of the law no. 2547 enacts the widespread art education aimed at, is an issue to be discussed at length. To put it this way, with the scarcity in terms of quantity and the cadre inadequacy of the institutions with a certain accumulation, a certain past and providing higher education in the name of art, the training of the art educators needed by the equivalent institutions to complete their formation is impossible.

As a consequence of the governments’ educational policies, the constant increase in the number of students enrolled in universities every year, mostly affects the institutions that provide the education of art. Art education is not a mass education it cannot be given in lecture halls. A studio environment is needed to make it possible to deal with each student individually.

When we think of the sources from which the theories that give a high level of art education take students, a treacherous picture emerges: Today, art courses in secondary education have been largely transformed into technical education or completely removed from programs. Throughout secondary education, there are no activities and lessons related to art and art culture except art history lessons, which are far from being scientific.

It should be the duty of all authorities to make training wise men effective as soon as possible, by handling the aims of general education and art education in the same direction.

Photography Education

So far, after explaining the concepts of education system and art education in general terms and examining the causes of the fog, which are concentrated on them, with concrete examples in the cause-effect relationship, it must be difficult to say the feasibility of photography education at a rational level in our country’s present social-cultural and political environment. In this part of the subject, before passing to the problems, I would like to take a look at the fact of photography in the development process.

One of the most important features of the twentieth century is the changing social process, as the result of the industrial revolution. The most important of the reasons paving the way for this process -as highlighted earlier- is the widespread development of knowledge and the development of technology at an incredible rate. Karl Pawek’s definition of the age we are in, as the Optical Age, is appropriate. Because, in our century, the basic segment in the relationships of the individual with his environment is organized visually. Visual perception dominates everyday life, when almost all types of forms of information with scopes expanded by communication tools, are observed. The intensity of the fields of usage of photography as a tool in the visual communication system and the diversity of languages it displays in these areas emphasize the necessity of photography education.

Photography training in the West falls in with the new era initiated for the first time by Daguerre in 1839. In this period, photography began to be 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.

Photography, which started to be used by the foreigners living within the borders of the Ottoman Empire soon after its invention in the West, could not show any further development due to the religious pressure. ¹
¹ For more detailed information on this subject, the researches of Engin ÇİZGEN and Seyit Ali AK can be made use of.

The educational problem in this area was on the agenda until the establishment of an educational institution under the name of the Institute of Photography in the structure of Fine Arts Academy in 1978, about 17 years ago, on the grounds that it was not understood or was not wanted to be understood what the consequences of the invention of photography could be in the Ottoman period.

The first photography education in Turkey within educational institutions, prior to the Institute of Photography, started with the photography studio established by master Zeki Faik İzer after his return from France, at the Fine Arts Academy -today’s Mimar Sinan University- where he worked as the photography educator. This education was abandoned in a way for reasons we do not know. After this disruption, despite the support of Baha Gelenbevi, Şinasi Barutçu and Kemal Baysal, being among the leading names of the time, and all the requests that our master Vedat Ar sent to the Academy administration in the direction of opening of the photography department could not be realized due to certain reasons. These reasons are explained today with such events as a fire at the Academy, which in those days, the limited budget, nonexistence of the required physical field, and perhaps the Academy administration could not dare such an initiative.

Later, although photography applications were started in one or two institutions that provide art education, after a while this weight has also vanished and was even removed. Because, the advantages of attaining results with photography in a short period of time, did not serve the purposes of certain people.

The institutionalization of education, which is the first and foremost prerequisite for photography to fulfill its social and artistic functions, has been delayed when primarily supposed to come first. This institution, established as the Institute of Photography, as the result of the new identity introduced to the academies and colleges after 1980, is independently carrying out photography education as the Department of Photography at Mimar Sinan University, Performing and Visual Arts Department, after such a delay by assuming responsibility for many problems waiting for solution.

The difficulty of photography training in our country and the mass of 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 the investment and production of which are very expensive due to its structure, is limited with education / training only.

The personnel problems of a delayed education should not be looked upon as a problem to be solved in the near future. The sources that will fill the vacancy of today’s personnel cadre are too small, or even do not exist. The gaps in education created by instructors trained in practice, temporarily introduced to fill this vacancy, also brought problems that cannot be rectified.

The fact that the majority of curricula in education are based on teaching rather than scientific and artistic research has a largely negative effect.

The fact that the educational staff is abstracted from the world of photography and distant from productivity makes it difficult to establish a dialogue with the student.

The problem of place is being brushed over with temporary solutions, and the educational building in near-ideal dimensions somehow cannot be reached.

The dilemmas listed above are just a few of the problems. In this vein, the development of the art of photography becoming a social and cultural power in Turkey is not possible within its present narrow framework. I hope that the solution suggestions brought below will set out new directions of approach.

Solution Suggestions

  1. The fact that Photography education must take place within production, i.e. the principle of production in education, education in production, should be adopted.
  2. To ensure a thorough training of tomorrow’s instructors, to fill the vacancies in their major branches, educational opportunities to study abroad should be investigated.
  3. In-service undergraduate curricula should be developed, in the direction to enable students to ask questions in a critical environment.
  4. During holidays, trips or short-term work programs at art schools in foreign countries should be provided for the students.
  5. Basic training of photography should be completed in the first 2 years, in the 3rd year occupation-oriented major branches should be formed, in the 4th year diploma study in line with these major branches should be foreseen.
  6. During the summer semesters, students should be able to practice in their major branches   and this practice must be made obligatory by being included in the scope of education.

May 17, 1989


  • TANİLLİ, Server – Nasıl Bir Eğitim İstiyoruz?
  • SANAT VE SANAT EĞİTİMİ / ART AND ART EDUCATION 1, 2 – MSU, Faculty of Fine Arts Publication
  • FISCHER, Ernst – The Necessity of Art
  • MSU, Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Photography Curricula
  • YENİ FOTOĞRAF Magazine – May 1981
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