The Reality Dimensions of Photography

* AFSAD (Ankara Photography Artists Association), Paper presented at the 2. Photograph Symposium. 17 – 18 January 1987

Four years have passed since the I. Photography Symposium, last held in 1982. Today, we gathered for the second one, at AFSAD / Ankara Photography Artists Association, they having earned my respect with their open attitude towards the internal and external reality of the future, as of today. Our aim will be to make an assessment for the future rather than to review the past, to investigate the new languages of expression in photography, to examine and discuss their developments.

It is useful to open a parenthesis before entering the topic and emphasize the fact that, in our country culture, art scene has not yet been able to reach sufficient maturity and wealth of knowledge necessary for such debates. We have watched –since the 80s– this reality fully in the form of altercation and grievance with, stereotypical thinking and haphazard discourse, far from reality, that lack theoretical substructure, knowledge and research. It is not a coincidence that these kinds of annoyances away from consciousness were seen in our country in the 80s. A group of thinkers, exasperated by the fact that the image selective, traditional, documentary photography is in a vicious cycle in the artistic platform, wanting to take on new quests but refrained for fear of being excluded, embraced the new reality based on the idea of freedom in photography, being the aim of my exhibition “Gerçek ve Fantezi / Truth and Fantasy” which I held in the halls of Mimar Sinan University, which was the State Academy of Fine Arts, in those years. I was aware how hard it was to convey this pursuit for new reality to the masses who speak another language in Turkey in those years when I came up with the experimental photography concept as a personal start. I thought my debut would stay individual. As every new fact in which visual perception turns into intellectual perception, shakes the rules of reason as well as the habits and values of the society; therefore, reaches to fruition with little protest or objection from the audience. The primary underlying reason for this simple relationship of cause and effect is actually, the established fact of reluctance to understand based on the ignorance of the audience. I experienced a live example of this situation in the panel on an absurd subject as, Should Photography be Designed? held at the Istanbul Photography House in 1985 where a fellow in the audience directed the question, “but we do not understand your work (!)”. Not understanding is not a deficiency; but it is a deficiency when the individual does not ask himself why he does not understand it and does not investigate this. Because the artist does not produce artwork that looks pleasant to everyone, speaking a language that everyone understands; because art is not for people who do not have spare time to spend for art education.

Although others have tried to explain the search for the new reality within the process that extends from the 80s to the present with other and unrelated concepts, experimental photography settled as a dynamic attitude beyond the vicious circle, that is open to free creativity beyond bigotry, based on intellect rather than visuality against the conventional attitude, that screams “here is a photographic art / artistic photography” and these screams are only heard by themselves, has preserved the quality and quantity of documentary and image selective and could not bring a contemporary dimension, a new artistic reality to the photography world until the 80s.

The works directed towards the search for new reality that has gained prevalence in our country are experimental. This concept, which is expressed as experimental in foreign language, is described by natural sciences as:

“Experiment is to prove the truth of the findings that will emerge as a result of the research based on the objective by a predetermined method; thus to ensure the development of the information within the scope of the research.”

Its definition and explanation in the Art History is as follows:

“To get out of a defined frame, to reach another reality beyond everyday life … To live the freedom; to overthrow the fear of exclusion, dependence, obligation and bury it in the past … To ask why and how about everything, to live the past-the present and the future at the same time.”

Experimental photography does not allow for any restrictions or limitations when using these features; it tries to be free from the mechanics and censorship of the mind as much as possible. For this reason, it is necessary to mention experimental photography as a set of images, which will lead the individual to internal reality beyond daily life.

Some of our friends –pardon me folks- without feeling the necessity to explore too much, may also make major historical mistakes while studying the where, why and how of experimental photography in the historical and social process. I will attribute this situation not to their ignorance but a lapse in concentration on their part. I would like to mention the paper distributed by Mr. Gültekin Çizgen, at the opening of his exhibition “Bir Duvar, Bir Duvara Karşı / One Wall Against Another” at the Istanbul Photography House of the time, making frequent altercations, and publishing papers with his attitude against experimental photography. My purpose is not to criticize the exhibition, but to correct the errors in the paper. The historical error lies in the following lines of the paper:

“… now, let’s take a close shot at that. On one hand, there is the reality; reality of human, nature, life. On the other hand, there is the corruption of reality, that is to say surrealism, with its name in the art literature, Dada. Dada is an art movement, born, bloomed, developed in Europe at the beginning of the century. The social, economic and cultural reasons that caused the emergence of Dada at the beginning of the century are still so different from Turkey, at the end of the century. What would the pioneers of surrealism, Dada think if they could live and learn that the indirect copies of their work they produced as they were bored with bourgeoisie, were made in a country living the end of that century, where its bourgeoisie could not yet have been raised …?”

First of all, the Dada movement began on February 8, 1916, in Zurich, by Tristan Tzara, with the principle of saving the person from the captivity of the mind. This movement destroyed the classical concept of the human but did not replace it with a new one. For this reason, leaving without any permanent work behind, Dada gave his place after a process, which lasted for 7 years, to a more fundamental surrealism movement with more distinct principles upon the first manifesto published by the French poet André Breton in 1924. In other words, the dada movement does not generalize the surrealist movement in art history due to the difference of its principles. Each has a different approach to art.

Second: The emergence of Dadaism should not be seen as the uprising of a small group, bored with bourgeoisie. This movement, against all value judgments against -the established system in particular-; was nothing else but the insurrection of a self-alienated man under the influence of the wars, the First World War. Today, specific principles of Dadaism are not observed, both in other plastic arts and in various movements within photography. However, there were so many social, economic and cultural reasons far beyond the reasons that caused the emergence of this movement in our country, in those days … It is not necessary to experience a Third World War to observe the alienation of people towards each other. Do the evolving technology of today, the communication network encircling us, not create enough reasons forcing the individual to live in an artificial universe? In such an artificial universe, objective reality also cannot be mentioned. If something is to be mentioned, another approach to reality should be mentioned. Freud reveals his understanding of reality in these lines:

“Mankind lives in a world of dreams; because dreams make the misery of real life endurable. If man can understand what these dreams are, that is to say if he can wake up from the half-sleep state and come to himself and see the limits of his own power, he can change the reality so that he no longer (also such a world) needs dreams.”

The foreign pressures in the industrialized societies influence the artist in line with the explanation of Freud; they force him to return to his inner life and seek new realities. Here, surrealism is born from such a deep search for inner reality. Surrealism is a spiritual automatism.

Mr. Çizgen, while defining the surrealism movement, said:

“… Passing beyond the truth, is the corruption of reality. Surrealists corrupt reality …”

Here is a poor description that lacks all scientific explanation. Before all Mr. Çizgen must know that –if it is the real objective reality that is mentioned in his description; because there is another reality called subjective reality the surrealists do not corrupt the reality: Because of the reasons I tried to explain above, surrealism is the desire for searching new reality in the eternity that extends behind the mysterious gates of the subconscious world, and for a renewal. Surrealism in photography, in a sense, begins with the photography itself. The masters who transferred real-life images onto two-dimensional surfaces for the first time, were not even aware that they were moving away from the objective reality when they were thinking that they reached objective reality.

Now that reality is mentioned, I also want to talk about the reality dimensions of the photography. Because, the question why experimental photography? will also be clarified only when this point is fully understood.

When making the basic definition of photography, Mr. Çizgen said;

“… interpreting the event by looking at a subject from the right place, at the right moment,

is giving the reality of this slice of moment…”?

I will consider the reality referred to in this definition -though not disclosed- as objective reality; because, in the documentary function of the photography, only its naturalistic aspect, that is its objective reality has been emphasized until recently. This definition of Mr. Çizgen is contradictory in itself: Because objective reality cannot be mentioned where there is interpretation. Only, subjectivity can be mentioned. Let’s open this up a little more:

In its documentary function, the photography shows the external subject being I that determined the central perspective and framing, that is, a moment in a slice of time, a place at that moment; a certain action at that moment and place.

With the intervention of the external subject I, the objective reality of the action occurring at that moment and space has transformed into subjective reality. When we separate and examine the pre-existent and later-produced reality from each other; we will see that each proceeds on its way separately. Because every documented moment has a before and an after. Only I, the external subject, can live these two moments.

The external subject referred to here is the displaying, the image that represents the moment is the display and side to which that moment is indirectly transmitted is the displayed. The display, that is to say the visual image that the displaying side thinks of transmitting to the displayed in this simple, but as much complex communication line, is the subjective interpretation of that moment, rather than being objective, due to the intervening concept of time / space, the mode of behavior and the worldview of the display. If the visual image arrives as a visual message to inform the audience about something, through the codes forming it, it should not be forgotten that it is far from objectivity in spite of all its closeness to objective reality. Visual displays of traditional photography are documents of the past. The importance and subjectivity in documentation of the role of I, which determines the action, do not change the fact that the displays are documents.

Even today, the image of one or two elders sitting on the steps of the house across, the photograph of a child picking his nose, or the silhouette of Süleymaniye at sunset, captured against the sun is called art. If these or similar interpretations are also art, I have nothing to say at all. In this country above all, the minds must change; broad-minded people must be raised.

The naturalistic aspect of the traditional photography believes that the social conditions are treated with scientific objectivity. However this objectivity is deceptive. In Art History, like impressionism, naturalism too sees these conditions as an invariable time, a certain moment in time, not as a conflict between the past and the future. In this case, the artist is subject to losing the whole.

Even when objectivity is the most uncompromising in showing the community as it is with all its details and reality can only be realized up to a certain point.

The artistic process of experimental photography is the informator of the future. This approach is based on the fact that there is not only a certain instant that has passed but also time that will come. Facts do not change; whereas the reality of a moment may vary according to the viewpoint of the person.

Obviously, we cannot turn back the clock, we cannot carry on the past. But there will always be those who cannot pass over the past, among us. It is a fact that new developments in the technological area have invalidated traditional aesthetic approaches. Because these developments destroyed the basic categories. So we have to move forward intrepidly, to real innovations. In order to be able to explain new realities, new ways of expression are required.

The reality dimensions of photography are explained by the variety of languages displayed in the areas used within the visual communication system. Photography serves 3 different areas according to its functional feature:

1. Scientific field
2. Professional field
2.1. Documentary Photograph
2.2. Photograph as Art
2.3. Advertising (publicity) Photograph
3. Amateur field

1. Scientific Field: The purpose of the language used in the scientific function of photography is oriented to the documentation of the findings resulting from the research and is used by the scientist. While performing this function, photography does not directly communicate with community; its technological appearance is the front plan.

2. Professional Field: In this field, photography aims the conversion of personal or foreign thought into a visual language. Because of this, the pragmatic language is at the front plan in the visual communication system. Professional photography finds a different usage area in itself:

2.1. Documentary Photograph: Generally, in the press, it defends the principle of conformity to the nature of the object and aims to create a shock effect on the viewer. Is affiliated with a certain redaction; that is, besides the visual image, there is an explanatory text regardless. This situation is so that it can reduce the real message of visual image to a manipulable position.

In our country, the language of the documentary photography is often attempted to be expressed artistically. In order to be able to characterize the visual image of the documentary photograph as artistic, it should have been transformed into mythos by the audience this image has reached. Not only in our country, in the world, there are very few works of art that have gained artistic language in this direction. So, each time we press the shutter, the subjectively reproduced reality, fulfills the documentary function of the photography; not its artistic function.

2.2. Photograph as Art: Is the transformation of a personal thought into a visual language? The goal is to reach the artistic message by using all the technological, syntactic i.e., aesthetic involving essence and form, semantic i.e. meaning, pragmatic, i.e. communicative possibilities of photography. With this understanding, it is open to all artistic experiences as a method. The basic principle of artistic language is that it wants to reach is the creative idea, determined as thesis-hypothesis or thought. The realization of the creative idea in line with the aim depends on the fundamental information within the context of the subject to be studied. For this, the study requires a certain process; a certain research and method in this process. Its language is individualistic and incorporates tension in its essence; there is a mutual conflict of the past and the future. As an art, it is not sufficient for photography to rise from the intensity and reality of life. It also needs to be addressed and reach a new internal reality. Because, art at its core, has not only a certain momentary period that has passed but also a future time.

This understanding taking its source from the dynamism of life, having a universal dimension and continuity of search addresses the audience in a variety of expression and language. In the artist of this understanding the aspect of being a man of thought has increased, the type of theorist-artist has become widespread.

2.3. Advertising (publicity) Photograph: It ensures the transformation of the thoughts of some other person into visual language for a specific purpose. Its language is meta-language. The purpose of visual image is to sell the product presented. Therefore, the language varies according to the audience it wants to reach.

3. Amateur Field: Aims to use photography for personal aims. The amateur gathers the memories to be passed on to the future and integrates these within chronological sequences. The amateur is a consumer, he does not produce; that is, there is no purpose to reach the artistic language.

In our country, the discussion of these issues is started in a way that cannot be prevented anymore. Art can attain freedom only with the clash of opinions. Experimental photography -I believe- with its form, effort and different expression, will create a richer, more fearless, more integrated expressive language than the vicious cycle that is desired to be sustained in the past and in the present day.

My friends, let’s not be deterred from resistances, mistakes, hindrances, reverses.

Thank you.

December 04, 1986

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