Light has been embedded in ice
The stone tired of time
Moved as if it didn’t
– Yalçin Varnali –
If you had to describe your overall photographic vision in 25 words or less, what words would you choose?
I try to create or fix moments as brackets of serenity in which time is suspended out of the too complex and fast world.
Why are you so drawn to long exposure photography?
Modern life is too much accelerated. It is flowing at a speed which often prevents us from noticing moments of sensual concentration. In our global culture, we certainly have plenty of cultural components in our hands, at the tip of our fingers more precisely, for expressing ourselves in everyday life as well as in the arts. But they flow too quickly and they are seen in so many complex forms that we only enjoy contemplating them, or maybe, to make incessant jugglery of their forms. I try to slow down this too-much hurried everyday life course with the long exposure technique. Besides, the objects I choose to focus on are immobile things. All of these create a sense of timelessness in a world where time has a strategic importance.
Why do you prefer black and white photography?
Black and White is commonly thought to be a more intellectual way to reflect reality, by an implicit erasing of its too-much sharp edges. I don’t agree with this point of view. For me, Black and White is the natural realization of a minimalistic perception of the world, without any need to support the image with the complexity of color junctions. As I want to attain the most reduced inner layer of the reality, details seem, in this perspective, often derisory. Therefore, the Black and White vision corresponds best to the desire to obtain the simplest state of the matter.
Who are three of your favorite photographers, and, more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
It is very challenging to choose just three photographers, so I will try to categorize them in three groups.
- The first place belongs to Nilgün Kara, whose work first inspired me to try long exposure photography. While browsing photography sharing sites, one day, I saw one of Nilgün’s minimalist long exposure seascapes. Right away I knew this was exactly the type of photography I wanted to do. Then, I discovered Alper Çukur’s work and contacted with him. Finally, I started researching long exposure photography, I bought some ND filters and the rest came rapidly …
- There is no need to do any explanation for this group. Everyone who shoost long exposure images should already know them: Michael Kenna and Michael Levin.
- All my close contacts from long exposure photography groups. Indeed, I have made a number of friends and contacts over the years and their influence on my work is priceless.
What artistic influences, outside of photography, have had a significant influence on how you approach your photography (for example, painters, filmmakers, musicians, poets, etc.)?
Before answering this question, I have to emphasize that my main source of influence is photography.
Although I am not a determinately obsessed follower of it, I think, in an artistic perspective like mine, which systematically try to eliminate the too much charged aspects of the everyday life, minimalism was the most substantial aesthetic conception that I needed. When I speak of minimalism, I take it in all its artistic variations, from painting to architecture, from cinema to music. Indeed, I have such a comprehensive understanding of art. For this reason, minimalist artists have been inevitably the most influential figures in my conception of photography. I like the works of contemporary sculptors and painters such as Donald Judd, Blinky Palermo and [Joan] Miro, but that was never a path-follower’s well-aimed track. What ignites my motivation for imaging the world’s instants is, I think, openness to all influences from all arts. Why not to be inspired by Rembrandt’s monumental mastery on painting light’s infinite states? I was also influenced by surrealism, with Salvador Dali in the first rank naturally, not as an aesthetic framework, but as an ability to expand time and space. In contrast with surrealism, I try to create the same effect on time and space, not through a transgressing of their ontological conventions, but, on the contrary, by keeping the real as too much real that it engenders an effect of out-of-realness. In fact images in my photos are just the non-intervened states of their own reality. We are so much accustomed to perceive reality in its augmented and complex forms that we seem to have lost our relation to simplicity. This is why my photos have, for some, an astonishing effect, yet they only aim to show the simplest being of life.
In sum, when I imagine myself looking at my photos and dreaming the world they represent, I hear Arvo Pärt’s tranquil but secretly worried music accompanying them. Finally, I should add a great violinist to this list: Farid Farjad.
What are your thoughts about trying to find the best gear possible versus working on making the best possible image with the gear you already have?
I think both have their own places and functionality in the photo-making process. Even though I rather prefer to be satisfied with my existing technical possibilities, I am not categorically opposed to try to find the best gear possible for taking the best shot. The incessant quest for new technical possibilities seems to me a trapping obsession. It can certainly open new horizons to the artist, but this should be a question of meticulousness that should be reserved for a higher level of mastery. Especially young or inexperienced photographers can easily be attracted by this too much instrumentalized techno-fetishism before they attain an artistic capacity that can explicitly mark their originality, together with a distinguished style. Unfortunately, the too-much-emphasized technical aspects in arts has and still has, in my opinion, a disguising effect on mediocrity. Good art necessitates labor, experience, dedication, knowledge, a comprehensive intellectual perspective, and certainly a specific insight, a capacity to sniff the image that deserves to be captured. I don’t want to make an appraisal of the past nor adopt a retrograde posture. Yet I am convinced that a good photographer is the one who mobilizes his/her best abilities to take the best possible shot with the least technical support. Of course, when s/he is sufficiently renowned as an artist, a developer of the photo art, s/he will need to play in a much finer register. This is when the use of new gear will be meaningful and not an end in itself. This is why, personally, I try to develop my abilities in the artistic side of photography with the just necessary tools needed to make a good photo.
How would you define fine art? Is it just a label?
There should be a difference between good and bad art. Nevertheless, may be we should try to change our terminology. Some may think that ‘fine art’ resonates as an exclusively elitist conception of art. Thanks to the massive production of the art object, the “mechanical reproduction” as Walter Benjamin stressed it, and of course, rapid proliferation of all kind of cultural expressions throughout an endless and decentered network society, made art democratic, as it has never been before. In such context, the fine art conception seems to belong to an older period where art was strictly reserved for and preserved by academically defined privileged authorities. From this point of view, technological innovations have broken this sacredness of the art. There is no central and/or academic authority which controls the making of the photo art, and of course this is good for the improvement of the art. Everyone can become a photographer. But, on the other hand, the democratization of the art should not be equivalent to the domination of mediocrity. On the contrary, the democratic competition should trigger off better results through new ideas and unexpected discoveries. Therefore the name ‘fine art’, as I understand it, should no more be a scholastic conception of the artistic production, but the excellence synthesized through democratic participation of everyone in creating better artistic forms. It is also a fact that fine art is largely conceived and used in the culture market as a label, a sign to the exchange value of art objects, without any reference to their real artistic weight.
If you had to come up with one very important lesson that you think every photographer needs to learn, what would it be?
All photographers should keep in mind that we stand on a structurally paradoxical domain: photography is the art of the static, the moment, the once frozen image of the reality, while the reality itself is a constant flow without any fixed and fixable landmark. So, photography can be conceived as the art of the impossible, even the inexistent. Every individual who takes pictures, from the most amateur tourist to the great masters, cannot escape from the victorious enthusiasm of having captured the essence of reality, the moment which is the most important or the most representative state of the reality. Some can even try to divert the reality through this fixed projection with effects, filters, all kind of technically possible interventions. Nevertheless, in this implicit desire to capture and thus dominate the moment, there is, I think, a systematic and maybe a necessary oblivion of the fact that reality cannot be circumvented, nor appropriated. The task of the photographer is a real utopic enterprise. We try to refine the art of fixing moments in an unfixable flow of reality. It is in fact contradictory to the concept of reality itself. But we continue to do that because human beings are the only species that can insert a symbolic dimension into existence. This is, in my opinion, the most fundamental lesson that every photographer should learn from and during his/her experiences.
What are your thoughts about the benefits of online sharing? Are there any particular social media or image sharing sites you prefer or do not prefer?
Our era is a contradictory one: on the one hand, individuals have become more selfish and closed in themselves, their technological selves; on the other hand, a culture of sharing, benevolent work, social initiative, a new kind of collective consciousness is also rising. Online sharing is a gift of the information age, one which mostly equalizes actors in a domain of action: photography as it happens. Online sharing permits photographers to express themselves without any institutional approbation of higher authorities. Quality is thus designated by free circulation of photos. Moreover, online sharing establishes direct links between artist and spectators, or artists and artists. This is also a new kind of social relation, which is much more egalitarian and based on accessibility. This is why I am fully favorable for such reorganization of the distribution of networks for photos, beyond the technical, aesthetic or political barriers.
I tend to prefer more focused sites such as Art Limited. It is the main site where I share my work. There’s a great community of photographers here and I’ve made a lot of friends over the last few years. Rarely, I post some of my works to Photo.net and Fotoblur. Stark Magazine is a really nice site which I recently joined. Finally, I have my own website and I recently opened a Facebook account.
What photographic cliché or common photography question, if any, irritates you the most?
There are different issues constantly discussed in the photography world. But I think, from them, I am especially sensitive to the dichotomy of black and white versus color photo. In my opinion, this is a purely artificial debate. This should be considered as a choice of technique instead of indication of quality. Not in every photo circle, but in some of them, the black and white photo is considered as a more stylized perception of reality, a kind of intellectual interpretation, even a way of critical thinking or seeing things. Although the great majority of my works are black and white, I don’t agree that this technique is more valuable or intellectually developed, nor a better way to reflect reality in a critical form. This is only a question of preference. But this is not an absolutely free or random choice. The style you develop, the spatial concept you adopt, your relation with the perception of objects, all contribute to this preference. My position as a subject behind my ‘objective’ is certainly shaped in my personal story, as well as in the necessities of the graphical circumstances in which we are oriented to think and work. Therefore, every object calls its technique. Mine was black and white, because my style, which is the way I see things is tranquility. This is not an escape; it is rather a technique of transposing objects onto their most simplified form, in a space that is so static that it seems to be artificial and then be erased for ceding its place to pure meaning, not that of the photographer, but that of the spectator.
If you were stranded on an island, and you could have one camera, one lens, one filter, one tripod, two books, and ten CDs, what would they be and why?
I am very happy with my equipment, so I would like to bring my Canon EOS 5D MkII, Canon 16-35 USM II, B&W 3.0 ND filter, Manfrotto 055CXPRO tripod with 468MG hydrostatic ball head.
1) Istanbul An Urban History – Dogan Kuban
2) Ancient Civilizations And Ruins Of Turkey – Ekrem Akurgal
CD’s (In alphabetical order)
1) Ahmet Kanneci – Anatolian Pieces
2) Arvo Pärt – Serenity
3) Farid Farjad – Farid Farjad 4
4) Gustavo Santaolalla – Ronroco
5) Incesaz – Üç / Istanbul’a Dair
6) Norah Jones – Come Away With Me
7) Sade – The Best of Sade
8) The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed
9) U2 – The Joshua Tree
10) Yüksek Sadakat – Yüksek Sadakat
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
We consume too much and too rapidly things, ideas, relationships, values, styles. I desire to be immersed in the meticulous craft of describing simplicity. I have tried to create images of timeless moments by using often immobile objects. I would like to keep my ambition to deepen my artistic and technical orientations in the same framework, but instead of taking pictures of immobility, I want to try to catch the same inertia in mobile objects and in color photos. But first I must be sufficiently mature in black and white photos of static scenes before feeling ready to extend this style to more challenging domains.
Is there any specific place that you would like to visit to take photos?
The world is still too big for photographic discoveries though we have all the information in our hands. No virtual experience can replace, of course, the concrete physical contact, including the human touch. I cannot easily distinguish places as my preferred spaces, but I have a few targeted locations that work best, as I guess, with my photographic conception. The number one of these places is the Uyuni Desert in Bolivia, one of the most arid places on earth. In fact this is the greatest salt desert on earth, practically white plate landscape, where nothing seems to move. It is one of the most curious phenomena to which I pay attention as a photographer. The Uyuni Desert provokes my enthusiasm for taking photos of endlessness and absolute tranquility as if it were on another planet. I should also add Iceland (in winter), Japan, the United Kingdom and Greenland.
Is there anything else you wish to add?
My photographic career until now has taught me that style is important. But this does not mean that style is the art itself. This simple fact seems to be forgotten in the Arts today. Form mostly dominates content. I am persuaded that a good photographer should keep in mind that s/he is not an image catcher but a vision builder. For building a vision, we should consider photography neither too technical nor too abstract of a construct. We need a comprehensive intellectual perspective for giving sense to things and absorb from them a multitude of significations. The real originality lies on such an interplay between object and subject.
And finally, I would like to thank you, Nathan, for giving me the chance to be a part of your project and to share my work. It’s very much appreciated.
Explore more of Yalçin’s photography: Website | Facebook | Art Limited | ND Magazine
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