With İrem Sözen on Her Works

İrem Sözen
İpek Çınar - Begüm Akın
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İrem Sözen is aware of the value of remembrance and the metamorphosis of remembrance; she is a young photographer who reaches out on the one hand to reality and that which is fictional on the other. Her works play with the idea of what is recalled, re-creating them from scratch, but meanwhile drawing on feelings as much as meanings; flying with a poof, burning like ouch, and sometimes resembling a cloud pouring rain. I talked about her photography works, her urges directing her works, the book format and exhibition methods with dearest İrem.


İpek: I actually like to begin with the day I first saw your works. I happened upon your book "recall" in "Torun" at the end of 2012 and I was thrilled. I felt I was holding something very precious, something bare. I asked Batur "who is this woman?" and he said "She is a friend from Istanbul, she is publishing all her books by herself, we like her so much." I bought the book that day. It is a really special one for me; I sometimes don't even open it, and it is enough. And it was also the first photography book I ever bought.

İrem: Thanks a lot İpek! The series "recall" took shape in Michael Ackerman's workshop in the summer of 2011 in Latvia. After the workshop, I was trying to build a narrative by establishing more explicit relations between photographs, instead of doing series with a pile of photos. When I was working on this book, I heard "Torun" would be opening and they would be building up a library, and I managed to finish the book before the opening.

On the projects "recall" and "turnaround"…

İpek: Would you like to talk about "recall"? It is strange that your works don't involve a text even though one can find a literary side to them.

İrem: I have found a way to tell things without speaking or writing and I get to enjoy it. Surely, I cannot do without writing, but they are not things that can become part of my works. But I still look through my notebooks when I am working on exhibitions and books, they sometimes come in handy and I share them with people. Still, writing requires a completely different language and (except for poetry) it conveys what you have to look and understand in a more immediate and direct way. Especially when you set forth from personal experiences it becomes harder to include the text to the work. That's why there is no text in "recall," in fact I tried for the title not to transgress its purpose. I tried to organize and size the images one by one, just like editing some silent movie. As for the catalogue/book for "turnaround" which Okay designed, we used some texts from my notebooks. Maybe they have filled some gaps, and it was good cos it is an unfinished series.

When I started working on "recall," upon some experience I had, I was surprised to see how memories are distorted constantly, as a matter of fact how the most vivid ones are forgotten more. But I had a story in mind and probably it was built upon various life experiences. I gathered a series of photographs to convey what I have in mind in "recall." I didn't have an intention to convey a specific experience I had at a specific time, and I took that liberty when I was selecting the photographs, and I gathered images from different times and family albums. Just like building a new story, I searched for the photos that would complete the missing words or phrases, I organized them and built a story which I would say "yes, I felt that way."

İpek: Actually, I was just what I was about to speak of. It is like Woolf-esque or Joyce-esque stream of consciousness. You recalling some stuff after an experience, but presenting these specific stuff like you are remembering them at that moment without putting them into a historical order.

İrem: Yes right, and editing them in detail is also interesting. Sometimes, you have multiple stories related to one another instead of a single story. I haven't find a presentation method yet, maybe I will one day, but it was something that has been occupying my mind. Maybe it would be a series of books connected to each other. Or maybe it is some structure constantly branching off. When I put the photos on the table and establish the connections, what will come out, a single story or something like a network, a map...A map stands more to reason, after all it looks similar to the way mind works when you consider various experiences transforming a similar network. Maybe there should be another way of editing them.

İpek: Partly, the work makes room for acting freely, and partly it is dependent on the connections with the past.

İrem: The past is something I perceive depending on how I feel at the present and by giving form to these feelings. It changes constantly, re-written constantly, as you recall what you forget, as you tell, think, repeat and you have new experiences that touch upon where they are recorded. And this way of working does me good cos in that way, I can be freed from this kind of fixed perception of past. That's why I feel free because it transforms the past even it is dependent on it.

İpek: If we are to consider "turnaround" it is very close to "recall" in terms of its visual language and also, there is some notion of looking back true to its name. Can we say "turnaround" is a more intensified version of "recall"?

İrem: Actually no, we cannot. One is shorter and one is longer, maybe that's why it seems like that...If "recall" is some kind of a recollection, "turnaround" is a transformation, or if "recall" is a moment, then "turnaround" is a process. I used similar techniques in both of them, but "turnaround" doesn't have the integrity in "recall", I will see what it transforms into when it is completed. And probably, the title will change as well, "turnaround" was a title we came up with for the exhibition and the catalogue.

İpek: And in "turnaround" we see your portrait which is hung on the wall in the exhibition "recall." When I see it, I felt "recall" has also become a part of the past. It is examined with a notion of "what is this feeling?" as well.

İrem: I guess, at some point, the process itself takes over. The remaining pages from the prints of "recall" were hung on the corner of the wall in my boyfriend's house. I think what we can do with photos, we can also do it with our memories. I saw there was something fragmented, distorted and rewritten there.


On Her Other Projects…

İpek: If you like, let's talk about your other projects. You don't tell or we cannot get hold of some writing in them. Plus, most of the photographs in "Impermanent" we also find them in "recall" and "turnaround."

İrem: Even if I usually work on series, I have difficulty in distinguishing between them. It is impossible for me to separate them clearly. Each photograph has by itself a potential to become a part of several other narratives. There are shared feelings, coincidental narratives. Maybe I will develop some system for the way I work in the future. These two series are older, they are from a period before I did "recall." Back then, I was not working on some fictional narrative like in "recall." I just did some photography series which have no sequence. I can distinguish Cardiff more easily, cos I did it in a short period with a specific technique. It composed of self-portraits I took with Polaroid Spectra in a 6 months period in Cardiff in 2008. As for "Impermanent" there was no time limitation, I continue taking pictures since 2009. They are photos of people I spend my time with, places I frequent. They are photos about ruptures, discontinuities in relationships, also the series involves a photo from my family album.

Begüm: There is another book in your website.

İrem: Yes, I did "my lies are my wishes" when I was studying engineering in 2005 for a photography class I took from Jeffrey Baykal Rollins.

Begüm: Is there some connection with your other projects? Though it is an old work but it must also be the basis of your commitment to books.

İrem: That was a time I fell in love with photography thanks to Jeffrey. I always go back to that feeling whenever I ask myself why I am so much into photography. It is a soothing state in which I can convey without talking and pull myself away from daily life. The book "my lies are wishes" consists of the self-portraits I took at that time. When Jeffrey asked us to make a book for the final assignment, I did 30 copies. I had very limited technical knowledge, but I also felt troubled by the poor digital prints, I found some way to have an offset print cheap. And I worked hard for its cover. Now when I look at it, I find my effort extreme in terms of the form of the book compared to its content.

İpek: Do you want to talk about your project on animals you are planning?

İrem: I haven't found my way yet, but I know what I am dealing with. Just like our assumptions about the permanence of memory and past, our general assumptions on animals are based on ideas that seem logical and out of habit. In a book I read, it said we forgot to look at the animals right next to us, in our search for aliens in the universe. It began like this, we can talk about it more within the progress.

On The Book Format and The Walls...

İpek: You participated in a lot of workshops on photography books: ISSP, Ackerman… and you usually present your works in a book format. Is this format special for you or what does it mean to you?

İrem: Book is a medium I can easily reach people. I didn't have any exhibition when I published my first book, and maybe there wouldn't be any. Communicating through books was a good idea and after a couple of exhibitions I can say I appreciated the idea of a book more. And on the other hand, it opened a new door for me for presenting my works in another format. For example, my opportunity in my first exhibition was through my book reaching to Nathalie Gallon in a festival in Bursa, and I received a proposal to participate in an exhibition in Paris. I don't think I am good in terms of exhibiting my works as in the books. I can work all by myself when I am making books, but in an exhibition I have to work with other people as well. And I have more troubles in my decisions. I am completely in control of the book, it is a format I can work without being exposed to any limitations or expectations. I feel free when I decide on the paper, the size, the cover etc. and it is easier to experiment with and see the results and change it. Besides, it reaches a number more than in an exhibition and it becomes something people can take and bring to their own rooms. Its size being easy to hold in one's hands, and its being an object one can establish a one-to-one relation with, is so good. I have lots of questions in my mind about the exhibition, it is an effort in itself to present the narrative properly in an exhibition space. Usually, I just don't have the time and means to think about those stuff.

İpek: You present and restructure your works depending on the setting you are in, and different exhibitions. A narrative from scratch in each and every exhibition, medium.

İrem: At first, exhibition is a completely new medium and now I used to decide things more in common. Nothing I didn't like emerged from that, but I refuse to be fixed, I am getting closer to what I really want. For example, the format I used in the exhibition in "Exhibist" was the format that I was relieved with till now. The size of the photos were scaled down and they got separated from the frames as objects. I had some reactions, some found it problematic I was trying a new format, and it is something that restricts me,     it discourages me. I am afraid of reproducing my works to satisfy these kind of expectations. That's why I am constantly searching for novel ways to exhibit my works. Maybe, in time, some distinct forms will take shape, but I don't think they will be fixed. To me, form is really crucial in an exhibition just like it is in a book.

Begüm: Maybe, it has to do with Turkey; I have never been abroad, maybe the environment is different when you are abroad. In Turkey, it is not common in lots of circles that an artist is practicing something sui generis.  A lot of people around us are practicing the same thing, but when I talk with someone outside of this circle they may say "what, a photo book?" The sole idea of a photography book may be like a retrospective or a catalogue of some established artist. Surely, in literature it is quite different. And I also think these things develop gradually; a book is a phase and there is an understanding that really experienced people can publish one. It is not really considered as an area that one can experiment on.

İrem: Unfortunately, with every novelty there are those closing the doors.

Begüm: For people, experience and freedom is interwoven. However, I think that the moment art is really free is when you first start it.

İrem: There, hierarchy intervenes, like in lots of areas. That's why working in an area you create where no one expects anything from you and no one judges you is the best. And likewise, it is usually an advantage not to study photography. I am not talking about withdrawing into oneself, one should follow what's going on around oneself, but in a place where no one is driving you into a corner. In fact, it can be liberating when you have good dialogues and friends.