On Booklab with Okay Karadayılar

Okay Karadayılar
Şener Soysal
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İpek Çınar
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We found the opportunity to ask our questions to Okay Karadayılar before the shambles of the festive holiday about the Booklab project founded by Okay Karadayılar and the galerist Kerimcan Güleryüz and on photobooks.

İpek Çınar: First of all, can you tell about the formation of Booklab? From what kind of a necessity it was born out of and how did you proceed?

Okay Karadayılar: It was not something we sit and say like "Let's plan something like this," it evolved organically. At that time, Kerimcan Güleryüz were managing Empire along with the secondary space Poligon on Serdar-ı Ekrem street. Poligon was more like a noncommercial project space, a residency. He told Frederic Lezmi "Come here, you can do anything, you're free." Frederic is very experienced in managing workshops, an artist who has different ideas (I mean he was, now he is mostly referred to as a curator). He said "I thought instead of doing boring exhibitions, it will be better to get social with people, know and make friends with them" and told about his idea of Booklab to Kerimcan. Then, he decided on 10 artists mostly working on photography and some painting. He plans it as an event in which everyone will make a book, but in the course of events he finds out that things are getting complex. So, Kerimcan who knows about my interest in photography and artist's book introduced us and I found myself in the loop and getting to grips with it. Soon, we were getting along really well with Fred, creating ideas and working together on something with him is like playing tennis: you tell about what's on your mind and he responds back. There is a tidal current without keeping any scores, and what emerges at the end is completely something beyond one side can create. Moreover, in this workshop, he also tried to organize the presentation of the books apart from making books for each artist. For the presentation, we wanted to create an environment in which we can invite anyone who is interested in the art of photography and photobooks, where people can meet, establish new relations and new ideas can develop and so, he wanted to do advertise this. Bandrolsüz, Torna and Espas Publications participated and opened their stalls in the backroom of Poligon. The beauty of it all was that the exhibition was in the same place we worked for it, so people could also see the remainders from our efforts, the ideas which were declined and the photographs that were excluded and so. We were really tired, but we enjoyed the whole process so much that we decided to do it again.

İpek: You have already told about a bit, Booklab seemed to begin with photographers at first. But in the second year, it opened to artists from other disciplines as well. In the first year there was only C.M. Kösemen who is not a photographer...

Okay: Yes, there was Kösemen. Also, Ali (Taptık), Batur (Cemil Batur Gökçeer), Gözde (Türkkan) and Serkan (Taycan) were there… What a list! It was really a time in which awareness of photobooks hit the top - at least for us. Then, we started thinking what would happen if we create the books as a medium with different artists. In the second year, we especially wanted an architect, cos we were working in Studio-X. So, Alexis Şanal joined. And he made a really interesting book. We thought let's open a bit more, cos it was "Booklab" as befits the name, not "Photobooklab."

İpek: So, what were the criteria for being a participant in the workshop?

Okay: This was a topic of discussion for us. After all, there is no reward or return. It has to be an environment of mutual trust. So, we want people who will excite us in a way that we would say "We will dedicate our 1,5 months." In the first year, Fred and Kerimcan thought about people they know who would be excited about it. In the second, we asked those participated in the first Booklab to give us 3 names who they thought would be interested in. And some names coincided. Those who did, Fred, Selva, Kerimcan and me invited. Also Cem Ersavcı was on the list and we heard we lost him. So, in the 2nd year instead of 10 we worked with 9 artists.


Şener: So, if we are clear things up, you started this to create for the pleasure of it. That's why you had no concern for an open call or something. It was an editorial choice.

Okay: Yes exactly, when the event seems serious, people ask how we decide on people, but actually it is something 3 people set their hearts on by putting their efforts and resources, it is voluntary. For example, the people in FİL who hosted us last year cooked everyday. That's why harmony and consensus is a must, it doesn't sound nice putting in gloomy selection regulations and so, we didn't do it.

İpek: So, which steps does the workshop stage involve?

Okay: First, we do an acquaintance meeting. Prior to this, we send an e-mail: "Hello, we are doing this and the results are that, maybe you heard from people you know" and try to give some ideas about the process in brief. During the meeting, everybody introduced themselves first, "I am an artist and I am interested in this and that," and at the end, everybody put forward a suggestion like "we can work on my this or that photography series here." And the whole setting was based on the idea that everybody should talk. There is no difference in tone between us and the artist who is there to create a book, and that's the beauty of the setting. For instance, someone finishes his/her book and s/he helps others, set to work for anything as much as one can, so it has been.


İpek: What kind of balance do you pursue between the artist and the editor/designer during the production process? And what kind of intellectual/technical contributions the books make for the artists?

Okay: Book is a medium which has mechanisms on its own. What you experience, what you comprehend is completely different from what you see in an exhibition in a gallery or a museum, or on some website. But, seeing a book as a whole is something extending over time in a different way, in which one dictates oneself more (or easily?). Let's say, it has its own advantages and disadvantages. We are trying to fit the series in a book's idiosyncratic world, narrative technique or try to recognize what is already fitting. Another beauty of the book is this: a book can spread over time so much so that even after 25 years, one can experience different things without recognizing what one is looking at. When you are watching a movie at home, you can also skim over Twitter, but in a cinema you are in the dark, the environment isolates you. And the book can detach you from your surroundings, if you decide to penetrate it, you are prone to focus, cos it also keeps your hands occupied.

These were things we noticed when we were talking to each other, we also talk about those stuff when we are working. Then we try to see, we are working on a book now, how do these things we talk about work here? It is a process that develops through reciprocal comments. We start with playing tennis, then volleyball replaces it, or various team sports, we ply between double tennis, and on the other side volleyball. There is no scorekeeping, the score is the books themselves.

Şener: Sometimes when a work is constructed as a book seems nice in its package, but it doesn't contribute to the narrative. Like works printed on some quality paper or in plexiglass seem cooler. Can every kind of work presented as a photo or an artist's book or presenting something in that format is good?

Okay: This question is always prevalent for us too. This is good but we ask if it is really suitable for that specific medium. The answer vary by the work and the book itself, by the viewer. Some people say "I love it, this is coherent, I like it" and some say "Why so much repetition." To me, if 3 people say "Yes, that's it" passionately, then that's it. There is no claim to appeal to everyone. And there is no clear answer, we are not dealing with some technical work. So, making something glossy and nice just in the name of making something fancy can also effect its taker. Or you find yourself explaining a book you don't like at first to others in a positive way after a couple of days. So, it depends, the important thing is the experience you get from it.

Şener: We also think about it cos it's kind of a trend. Photobook as a medium is nothing new, but it's kind of appreciated recently and...

Okay: They go overboard it, right? I can understand you. Saying you have a photobook in the past is quite different from what we are doing today. In the past, you need a considerable amount of budget. You have to go to the printing house, you have to at least have 500 printed. Now we can just print 3, there is a technological change. So, we only experience the beauty of the medium itself. I am not romanticizing the idea that it can be distributed to everyone. It is not anyway, it is distributed to 500 people when you have it printed 500. When you upload it on the internet or Youtube you can reach millions. What appeals to me here is the relation between the corporeality you create within the object, in pages and the narrative. But as you say, even if the photobook has come into fashion, not everyone has that passion for it. The passion for objectivation is amazing, but sometimes it just ends there. Or maybe it doesn't, I am not sure, naturally I cannot keep track of everything. After all, book is something time-consuming, it's like making a sculpture bits by bits. If you wish to do it just for the pleasure of it or see it as a fetish, you may not do a good job. Actually, this goes for everything.



Şener: I agree when you say it's not distributed to everybody. Similarly, we only get to see the works in Booklab once. There may not be any difference between the book and the exhibition in terms of extension. Even the presentation method can become relatively similar. You enter into the place, instead of the photographs you see the books on the wall, or you just skim through it and that's all. The possibility of multiple viewers seeing the exhibition at once when the photos are on the wall doesn't tally with the possibility of one viewer seeing a book. Naturally, you have questions like if there is another solution for it...For instance, the event "Book and Time" in Torna is some kind of a proposal.

Okay: But unfortunately, probably 4 people saw it. It is not something interesting even as an abstract idea. But just keep in mind that there is something like that. Where there is so much consumption, it is nice to have some event reverential to what is produced. But there is no dictation here, there are takers, there are onlookers. Billions of movies are made, billions are seen. Who sees them how, the medium itself has nothing to do with it. People working in that specific medium are just willing to do it, do their jobs, they do it if there is any taker, onlooker. If you are doing something expecting something in return you're screwed, instead just go and do business. There, input-output score is clearer. But here, it is beside the point, you can never know when you get what. Maybe 5 years later someone will say "Hey, I saw the Booklab" or fuck knows s/he might just say "You guys blew it, photobook was something good."

Şener: There is a great deal of effort in there and personally, I don't take the same pleasure as standing up and looking at it, I cannot take the same pains and so, I cannot buy it to look at it at home.

Okay: That's true and it's a big problem. Photobook Museum for instance, is also a museum which has come out as one of the fruits of those discussions. How do you look at a photobook, for how long do you look at it, is there some equivalent to seeing it inside a different space? And there is no clear answer to that question either. Maybe there are some books and even if you spend a little time with them, it is enough to impress you. Lars Müller has a book called Helvetica. The book consists mostly of Helvetica photos from the city. It is that accepted, you just think of it as the "city's font." When you just skim through it, whenever you see a Helvetica in the city, you just come to live with the book cos you have seen it already. Every book has its own life, experience, and that's the influence it has on me. Some like to read the books highlighting the lines, and just say "That book consists only of photos, this is not even a book!"

Şener: Maybe s/he can draw a stickman.

Okay: Maybe just highlights the photos.

İpek: If we are to consider the artists who participated in Booklab, you met various artists from Turkey. Do you think we fall under some trend or movement? What kind of styles people are influenced from?

Okay: I think it has to do with time rather than place. Since we began Booklab, what I feel is personal documentary is in fashion. There is some introversion, cos photography has this claim to prove itself which never really broken. The horrible events we have been experiencing within the period, I expect people to be more introverted. Maybe it will be the reverse, some people will start to form groups. And being lonely could be horrible.

If you are asking in terms of style, we see how every individual has a distinctive personality, how there are lots of similarities in between. For instance, I noticed something in the festival in FUAM: there is this frenzy of texture photography. You see some trashes, some clothes, and textures and textures...There is a homogenous texture-mania. And now and then, there is this feeling of "I was lost in that texture." I mean ok, you feel it in the first one, the third or the fifth, and you just say "I really see a similar texture when I look at this dead dog." But when you see everybody is doing the same stuff, you have to ask yourself: "Am I part of the same group in some accidental way?" What you do after you ask it, is completely another thing.

Şener: We did a little list of it some time ago, the most photographed things in contemporary photography. Cracked walls, musty walls, too rough lamps and ceilings, dead birds, bleeding fingers...

Okay: Let's consider the recent beard trend. The people you have never expected to grow a beard started growing bushy beards. Does the 100.000th guy who grows that beard know the root, the basis, the motive of this very act itself? Or the 20th guy? Someone shows that it can be done, then everybody follows him finding something from themselves. But as the numbers increase, it can be imitated just because it is normalized or it becomes a symbol for some sect. So, the miracle is not in the beard, it is to know why you grow it. So, when the group grows, it means the days that it will be questioned, and that people go round in circles are coming.

Şener: The system or the environment can somehow popularize and banalize what is vanguard or different. And with photobooks, it is similar.

Okay: There are loads of people who are vanguards, there are loads that do weird stuff as well. But it doesn't mean anything unless you convince people that what you do is art, that it can interest them or that you are expressing something interesting and valuable. But when 3 people recognize what you do is good and explain it, then you see plenty of people who imitate and reproduce it. Like they say for some artists, s/he is born in the wrong time period, history is full of them.