Incidents, Happenings and the Rest

İpek Çınar
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Let me say this first: Even though I am excited in this update which is focused on photobooks, to host many competent people in their respective fields, it also paralyzes me as one of its regular writers. Because I fear that I might not fill this space in which I try to join the others who filter and contemplate their ideas on a subject I don't really have a solid grasp of. I'd really prefer that instead of me, a photographer whose ideas I appreciate and whose library is wider than mine. But isn't what we all complain about some hidden embargo that if young people like us come to do something they have to prove themselves?

Photobooks (maybe because the word "reading" communes with books) open a free space for the viewer with social features like concentrating on what's on the artists' mind, holding the work in hand, establishing a direct relation with the work at a distance from possible new tabs and seeing some acquaintances. More importantly, compared to a single work of art, it is a precious guide in presenting a work in its entirety. Along with these features, considering that its accessibility becoming easier recently, its appeal doesn't surprise one. That's how I started collecting photobooks.

The first photobook I have ever bought and put it in my library was the catalogue of Andre Kertesz's retrospective exhibition in Istanbul Modern. The Hungarian photographer who was born in 1894, began photography with the photos he took from daily lives of Hungarian peasants and the battlefields in the First World War. He took to fashion photography when he moved to Paris and introduced to the art environment, and then started taking nude photographs, "Distortions" which we are all familiar with today. Istanbul Modern's book published under the same title with the retrospective exhibition "Double of Life" is an epitome of this whole process in an orderly fashion. Therefore, just as reading someone's autobiography is unexpected if you don't like him/her or if s/he is doing something in a field you are already working in, buying this book is probably because you already know about Kertesz. And I got that book which I saw in another exhibition, in the first months when I started taking photography classes, with a respect for the master photographer.

When I keep skimming through the books in my library, I reach for another book close to Kertesz's: Roger Ballen's "Shadow Chamber" which I bought from the first photography bookshop I have ever been to in St. Petersburg, after a year. Roger Ballen is gathering irrelevant things together in this world we are all familiar with, and he draws the essence of those things closer to each other. Just as words may take on different meanings in a sentence as opposed to the meaning they have separately, in Roger Ballen's photographs, objects assume some meaning beyond the image they have. In other words, Ballen plays with the essence of things. He fuses absolute purity and remoteness from them in one pot. So, I can never decide if I like his photographs which have absolute sincerity and alienation at the same time, or hate them. Yet, Ballen appeals to me somehow, the feelings he arouses are so strong. I remember clearly the enchantment I felt in St. Petersburg in that shop which is selling only photography books, but what I do right now is looking at the titles printed on book spines, and when I run into the names I like, holding and flicking through them. Back then, I had the tendency to pick photographers who proved themselves, without taking any risks.

The third book that catches my eye in the library, the one I had a year later from Ballen's, was dearest İrem Sözen's "recall" the book spine of which is so thin that it can easily get lost in there, and which is untitled. I happened upon this self-published book without looking for it, and it introduced me both to the notion of self-published books and İrem Sözen's works. The book has a black, double cover. When I first saw it, it gave me a feeling of some box hiding what's inside; in other words, I felt that the artist would reveal something very private and personal. It was as if Sözen put some memories she couldn't dare to look but also spared, inside a black box and put it aside. For it was not easy to annihilate the connection with memories. And when I heard the work is about remembering and reproducing what is remembered, I realized I was not wrong.

When I am writing about the books, the fact that I feel the need to explain in Kertezs the artist, Ballen the general style of the artist, and Sözen book as an object and just the work in the book, raises the first question in my mind: When I am picking a book, how much do I pay attention to the photographer, the publisher and the design and what criteria do I take into consideration? Do I have to give my money to a book from an established photographer or someone I like? Or do I have to regard the photobook as a medium of some presentation and pay attention to the format instead of the photographs? In a photobook, what should be the balance of the relationship between the photographer and designer, photographs and their way of presentation, the peace in the classic and broadening the horizons in the new?

Surely, these questions remained unanswered at the back of my head, and I relieve myself with the idea that the answer changes from one person to another, time to time, budget to budget, and it will never be just one answer, and in time I keep on obtaining exhibition catalogues, books published by big presses and also self-published books.

Two books I got after a while were Arja Hyytainien's book published by Filigranes Editions and Ali Taptık's notebook. The idea of notebook which I find close to my narrative tendencies, inspired me a lot. And when I saw Taptık's last page which would open new doors for me, I happened upon the graphic designer Okay Karadayılar. So there is also a designer involved in the book making process apart from the photographer whose role should never be underestimated and that s/he can make the book or break it!

Ali Taptık and Okay Karadayılar have a partnership which should be emphasized when you think about the notion of photobook. For these artists who are working together for years are two people who pay regard to the balance between the photographer and the designer in the book making process, and they are special people I admire with my identity as a photographer and a photobook lover. I was lucky when in those days they would be coming to Ankara for a photobook model workshop called "12 Images" and I had my name on the list on top.

Taptık who I admire his discipline and background in his works, moreover his attention to the medium of presentation, and who is open and helpful to those he believes their sincerity and care, but otherwise doesn't spare his sharp tongue, has a special place for me, where I make more effort and feel the need to improve myself. In his workshop with Karadayılar, "12 Images" he shook me who is a bit confused about photography off with his reproach: "Well, how come you want to make a photobook without taking photos?" When I reconsider it, I realize the urge to take photographs during this workshop and I take my hat off to these two artists.

As a person at odds with taking photographs for a long time, I remember after the workshop "12 Images" I gave up taking photos and took a turn towards what seems easy like only writing on photography and photobooks. And this leads me to a new subject I am pondering upon these days. Production of photobooks in recent years, has gained momentum in Turkey just like abroad. The books published successively one after another, the workshops and festivals turns this medium into some kind of a trend and unconsciously creates an sense of "I also have to make a book." The questions I hear "I don't have a finished photography project but maybe I can also apply to this photobook workshop" around me, an explanation I saw in the applications of some photobook workshop "I am applying not with my photos, but with ...'s, and I would like to make a book out of them" or when I ask my friends who want to make a photobook "Why do you want to make a book out of these photos?" the confused looks I get, intensifies this feeling. Maybe it is the reason why there are so many well "packaged" books in recent years. For these books published one after another, seem to be done in a bit of a rush, and the gaps inside the stories are trying to be covered through the tricks in the design.

The essay "Five Book Design Trends Spotted in the PhotoBook Awards Shortlist" published in Aperture Foundation, is ironically crucial with regards to this. Books that have characteristics like transparent plastic jackets, pages of different shapes and sizes and accordion pages confuse the viewer: isn't it weird that books produced through very different perspectives and that have different contents, are subjected to similar design methods? Do photobooks not considered as a medium of presentation like exhibitions or websites, and does the focus become only their accessibility? Even so, if we take into consideration the issue of distribution, one should remember that the easiest way to display a work is through the internet. And everyday we see crazy web designs on screen (For instance, I have always find Augustin Rebetez's works on his website is much more thrilling than his books.) One has to keep one's eye open to the possibility that design can get ahead of the photographs in photobooks.

And this way of thinking reminds me of my confusion during my application to FUAM, the splendid institution founded last year. In my portfolio, I had 2 completed works which I didn't want to make a book out of, and photographs from an unfinished story. My statement of purpose was full with confusing phrases like "I have 2 completed and 1 unfinished stories in my portfolio. I can make a book out of one of these or one by blending the 3." The idea of making a book was so appealing to me, I didn't think if I really had works suitable for making one. When I got a rejection, I started contemplating in the real sense, and realized my time hasn't come yet and that I didn't have any works suitable for the book medium.

Now, I have a work which I still think on and one day when it is finished, I believe the medium would be the book. I want to tell you how I'd do it in a world of ideas full with infinite possibilities material and nonmaterial. If I have to tell the story in short: "Mediation" is a story I began to fictionalize when I went to my village with my father and started writing about it, and it focuses on a sadomasochistic relationship in religious terms between an imaginary couple. From the day I began writing this story, one of my inspirations was dark tales from the middle ages aiming at secluding women and children by scaring them. In this dystopia, I had this father figure in my head, who is telling this dark tale at nights. And because I don't have the heart to separate the story from the photographs, I find the talebook format appropriate for the work. Sometimes, I imagine 3D pages to emphasize the dreadfulness and intensity of some photos. Also a part of the work, I imagine the videos, which my mother calls as "moving photographs," as segments that move when you pull the wick (similar to flipbooks) in pop-up books and then move back in place. The story will be written on the photographs just like in talebooks. So, what I have in mind is a talebook rather than a photobook.

I imagine this as someone who doesn't know much about design or printing, only by taking photographs and pondering upon the story of the project I am working on. Even if I have a general idea about the order and dimensions of the photographs, the paper I will use, its texture, the font style, the printing method, I know I will be paralyzed when the time to make the book comes. Apart from a need for a designer, there are also various ideas when the time comes for printing and the cost becomes an issue as well.

Still, as someone who has appeared mostly with her letters awaiting a reply in Orta Format, I am open to e-mails to the questions I have for my book project, and also those who might as well say "Wait, I have an idea!"