ARTICLES

READER / OKUYAN, Anatolia, Turkey 1954

Coşar Kulaksız

Pera Museum Exhibition Catalogue

November 2013

A Photographer Beyond Her Time

TO REMEMBER TO FORGET

There are two kinds of ends

One looks ahead and behind,

The other look not behind,

but ends what is behind.

 

Özdemir Asaf

 

As a 19th-century invention, photography was perceived -due to its nature, as well as its technical processes- as a method to identify and capture what is visible and thus struggled for a long time to assume its place among other forms of plastic arts.

 

In an interview he gave at his studio in Paris, where he took the portraits of the famous in the late 1800s, Nadar, one of the first portrait photographers in the world, claimed the following: “You can grasp the technique of photography in a single day; however, the life of a photographer might end before he ever understands light. “

 

Yıldız Moran is the first female photographer of Turkey’s Republic era to receive academic training in photography and exhibit her works abroad. Using the light with great mastery in the images she “produced” Moran stepped beyond “taking” photographs -recording them technically and transmitting an image onto photo-sensitive film- and was able to put her soul, mind, and heart, or more precisely herself, into the images, deepening their effect. This exhibition, which, can in a sense, be considered a “Yıldız Moran Retrospective” intends to present to viewers this unique inner voice of Moran with a new reading, which we believe will lend her more recognition in the history of Turkish (and world) photography.

 

First female Turkish photographer with academic training

Born in 1932, Yıldız Moran was the third daughter of Vahid Moran, who served as the Director of the Intelligence Bureau of the General Staff during the early years of the Republic. Apart from his successful career in the General Staff, which he began as a naval officer and served in Egypt and Germany, Vahid Bey was also the writer of the first Grand Turkish-English dictionary. His wife Nemide Hanım, on the other hand, was a true woman of the Republic. Nemide Hanım’s older sister Müfide Ferit (Tek) Hanım was a leading writer of early Turkish literature. The Moran family was open to modern and progressive ideas and believed that women should play an active role in society. Photography was among Vahid Bey’s hobbies; the quality of the photographs he painstakingly produced with considerable technical knowledge and meticulousness is difficult to encounter even today.

 

The prosperous Moran family lived in a mansion in Bahariye. Yıldız Moran had two older sisters named Nermin and İnci, as well as two older brothers named Ekmel and Tosun. Vahid Bey provided every opportunity for the education of his children.

Today, his eldest daughter İnci Moran is cited among the first modern educators of Turkey.

 

Demoralized upon failing a class in her senior year at the American College for Girls (now, Robert College), Yıldız Moran turned to her maternal uncle and renowned art historian Mazhar Şevket İpşiroğlu for advice. Knowing that she had no predisposition for painting, Şevket Bey gave young Yıldız the idea to study photography. At a time when living abroad was almost impossible for a single woman, Yıldız Moran decided to go to England to study photography. In 1951, she was enrolled at the Bloomsbury Technical College in London. The school specialized in the technical fundamentals of photography. Determined to learn more, Moran attended Ealing Technical College from 1952 to 1954. She traveled across Portugal, Spain, and Italy and photographed the places she visited. She joined a photography club in Italy in 1952. In 1953, she interned with John Vickers, the photographer of the famous Old Vic Theater.

 

While gaining technical experiences in photographs and photography, Yıldız Moran also began considering photography as a form of art. In 1953, she opened her first exhibition comprised of the photographs she took abroad at the Trinity College in Cambridge. All the 25 photographs she had on display were sold. In 1954, she opened five more exhibitions in London. At the end of the same year, she completed her education and training abroad and returned to İstanbul.

 

Return to İstanbul

Embarking upon a tour of Anatolia alongside her uncle Mazhar Şevket İpşiroğlu upon her return, Yıldız Moran photographed villages and people during this journey. In 1955, she opened a studio in Beyoğlu, İstanbul. She began exhibiting her photographs at this studio located at 20, Kallavi Street, a floor above the famous Maya Art Gallery owned by Adalet Cimcoz. She also worked as a portrait and business card photographer and did shoots for companies to make a living. However, she was preoccupied with engaging in photography in the artistic sense and she did exactly that.

 

Moran opened two consecutive exhibitions in İstanbul, in 1955. She displayed her works in Ankara, the same year, in İstanbul (at the Ankara Sanatseverler Derneği [Art Lovers’ Association], Hilton Hotel, Moderno Gallery, and Turkish- German Cultural Association) in 1956 and 1957, in Edinburgh in 1962 and once again in İstanbul in 1970.  Her exhibitions of 1970, 1974, 1976, and 1998 were retrospectives. Although each exhibition was highly praised both by the press and the art circles, she did not sell as much in İstanbul and Ankara as she did at her first exhibition in England. The art of photography in Turkey had not reached that level of maturity.

 

During the years in which Ses Mecmuası, that included relatively better-quality color photographs for the period, had just begun circulation, tabloid and news photography emerged as a new occupation. Nonetheless, photography was still perceived as an “instant recorder” capturing a moment, or a means to snap headshots, portraits, or souvenirs captured by à la minute photographers at certain locations. The films Yıldız Moran developed herself survived to date with little or almost no damage; she had a full grasp of photography through the education and technical knowledge she received during her stay abroad.

The most important thing; however, was the path she chose in photography after all that training and effort. Having opened six solo exhibitions and retrospectives abroad and nine in Turkey, Moran stopped defining herself as a photographer after 1962. In a sense, photography was no longer in her life as of this date.

 

A different photographic style, a different approach

Yıldız Moran is still a closed box, a veil of mystery. Her photographs are not widely viewed. Only historians of photography or people interested in the photography of the Republican era are familiar with Moran. Even they often only know her by name or by a few familiar images. While her 12-year-long career makes one wonder why she suddenly quit photography, it also leads us to question how she was able to capture such impressive and timeless images in such a short time. What stands out here is not the duration of Moran’s relationship with photography, but rather her unique and timeless production, as well as her artistic conception that deserves to be rediscovered again and again.

 

A pleasant anecdote conveyed by Nazan İpşiroğlu, the wife of her uncle Mazhar Şevket İpşiroğlu, who encouraged her to take up photography, may shed light on Yıldız Moran’s approach to photography. Nazan Hanım, her husband Mazhar Bey, and Yıldız Moran traveled to the town of Söğüt in Bursa to take photographs. The subject was cirid (javelin). Working as tabloid or documentary photographers, the others set up their tables, determined the frame, arranged the exposure, and carefully took their photographs, Yıldız Moran -with the camera in her hand- was following and capturing the subject from different points and angles, with extraordinary enthusiasm.  Encountered in the majority of her negatives and created by angles we can call unconventional, the photograph series from this trip signifies that both the education she received and what she considered important do not simply impose the identification of the subject, but rather pursues the process of creating the closest alternative. The adventure continued in other shots from the same trip. In the Anatolia of the 1950s, Moran captured another spirit: a timeless spirit that represented people without people, effort without labor, and abundance in poverty. These frames constituted a response to eyes trying to reduce photography down to artisanship and not art.

 

According to Moran, anything with lyricism was worth of photographing. She believed that mastery of light and composition were prerequisites in photography. However, the most important thing was to have sufficient meaning, which Moran never dictated as she always left it to the viewer to read the meaning and content. Therefore, even today, each one of her frames is sincere, genuine, and timeless.

 

Yıldız Moran does not seek to record or document the time, to capture the moment. As she shares with us scenes that communicate only with her, she allows us to have our own experiences in the same scenes.

 

In these frames, we sometimes encounter images of Anatolian women holding their babies and surrounded by their children; we cannot tell if they are coming or going and wonder, at each glance, if they are happy or unhappy. Moran’s goal is not to record the drama of the Anatolian woman or the poverty of the region, but rather to let us feel that we can pursue our own journeys and questions through the journeys of these people.

 

In a frame featuring two large caïques and a figure standing on the left, the caïques appear not as rowing boats, but rather as magnificent classic sculptures. Whose footprints are those in the snow? Are they of a departing passenger or a visitor coming our way? The path is long, yet we never truly know to whom these footprints belong. Moran leaves that to our imagination. The realism of the photograph is also connected to our imagination, as, much like the footprints in the snow, the photograph can only carry an aspect of reality. The rest is up to the imagination and adventurousness of those who wish to pursue those footprints.

 

Yıldız Moran captured frames we were not accustomed to seeing in the 1950s. Her objective was not to emphasize a story, but to photograph it and to share the emotion between the subject and the camera. She was respectful of her subjects; until she would find the right moment to capture, she would try to get to know the other person and talk to him/her. “For me, the subject is the human being. I establish a connection with him/her as two human beings. My photographer persona is never in the foreground. We meet, we talk, we share things. We establish intimacy. Meanwhile, I search for my angle, find my place, determine my frame. The person across from me is in his/her element (…), s/he is what s/he is, in other words. I take my photograph. After that, I never leave immediately as if I am done and have taken or given whatever it is that I have to give or take. Just like I did in the beginning, I talk to him/ her again, bid farewell, and then leave.” (Özdemir Asaf, “Yıldız Moran ve Fotoğraf Sanatı” Cumhuriyet, 28 November 1970) The result turns out to be a frame that includes the viewer in that precise moment.

 

Apart from detection, which is the most fundamental function of photography, Moran reached a multi-layered language of depiction that introduced her viewers to unfamiliar meanings and concepts through her photographs. In an interview she gave to Seyit Ali Ak, Moran says, “The problem was to discover the concept of photography. To find and expand it. You fight your own inner conflicts” and continues, “Anatolia is incredibly colorful heaven for photography. People are plain and accessible. However, unless we can associate the colors of Anatolia with what is universal and prevalent, I think that the photograph does not attain its objective (…) You have to think; design in your head what you will photograph and how you will photograph it, such that each technical problem between you and your subject is eliminated. You have to be in control of the conditions. You must seek the most recent developments, the newest opportunities.” (Seyit Ali Ak, “Yıldız Moran “, Erken Cumhuriyet Dönemi Türk Fotoğrafı, Remzi Kitabevi, April 2001)

 

Moran touched upon the technical insufficiencies in Turkey in several interviews. In fact, she emphasized that sometimes the artist had little time left to focus on content due to these insufficiencies. Despite the conditions of the period and all the technical shortcomings; however, Moran succeeded in exploring content and the concepts within that content with her unique language of photography.

 

Working around the clock

In an interview she gave to Ses magazine in 1983, Yıldız Moran gives the following reply to those who claimed that photography is not an art form. “Small thrills cannot be art. One should feel an overwhelming thrill. That’s the reality. This [that photography is not an art form] may be true if the subject is an interview photograph of documentary nature. In order to conduct an interview, one has to reach a conclusion on the nature of the event. There is another side to photography, the subjective side. This side distinguishes the newspaper interview with the poet. You can use your camera in the same versatile way that you use your pen. The photographer is obliged to find the camera most suited for herself, the same way the poet chooses to write poetry with a certain measure, rhyme, and content. In both fields, the result is a failure if there is no lyricism or aesthetics. A respectful approach to the subject is of utmost importance. Since the camera is recognized as an objective means of perception, the notion that each photograph is an objective image prevails. Yet, the photograph can be significantly distorted depending on the angle and moment from which it is taken, as well as the perspective of the photographer. Then, it becomes a very dangerous weapon.” /Anonymous, “Türkiye’nin İlk Kadın Fotoğraf Sanatçısı Yıldız Moran “, Ses, 25th issue, 25 June 1983)

 

It can be said that during the time she actively took photographs and even afterward, Moran was always preoccupied with photography. The same is true of any full-time photographer. The photographer is only interested in a world seen from the viewfinder or, if there is no camera in hand, frames imagined through the viewfinder. Each moment is a moment missed and each captured moment is an attempt to reach a better one. As Moran also underlines, photography is “a subject deliberated around the clock, which cannot play second fiddle. A photographer is someone who can convey the place of a stage particular to man or life in a conceptually fulfilling, intense, and weighted manner."

 

Giving up photography

How is it possible that someone, both as a Turk and a woman, who blazed a trail in her field, explored the conceptualism of photography, and constantly thought about art and photography around the clock, suddenly quit photography in 1962? The answer is simple, yet equally complex: For the sake of a new passion and love—the love she felt for renowned Turkish poet Özdemir Asaf. She was smitten enough by him to say, “I met him on 4 November 1954, at 11 o’clock.” Could it be possible not to have been impressed by Asaf? He was one of the most bohemian, handsome, and talented poets of Turkey. He was a romantic and each word he spoke was pure poetry. As she searched for a meticulous printing house to print her postcards upon her return to Turkey, Moran came across Asaf and his printing house; the relationship that marked a turning point in her life thus began. Photography was such an intense and passionate occupation for Moran that since she could not dedicate herself to something else with the same passion and love, she made a choice.

 

The couple married in 1963; once their children were born one after the other, photography fell into second place for Moran. Their oldest son Gün was born in 1962, followed by Olgun and Etkin in 1963 and 1966, respectively. For Moran, being the wife of Asaf and the mother of his children became the primary objective in life. She never regretted quitting photography. Nor did she perceive it as turning her back to or abandoning her craft. The passion and intensity of someone who once ran the risk of traveling thousands of kilometers away from her family to receive education and, with the same dedication, succeeded in journeying across and photographing many foreign countries by herself as a woman, took on a different direction upon meeting the love of her life.

 

Epilogue

Said by Pera Museum consultant and esteemed man of culture Samih Rifat, who passed away in 2007, Yıldız Moran’s 12-year adventure in photography that extended from 1950 to 1962, was a story of “forgetting/being forgotten” until her death in 1995.

 

Rifat writes, “Yıldız Moran’s photography is first a tale of passion; then it becomes a tale of self-sacrifice and renunciation (…) I don’t wish to believe Yıldız Moran’s words when it comes to her tale of giving up photography. Can an art enthusiast renounce her passion merely for the sake of her children and family? A French writer whose name I cannot recall right now (possibly Malraux) argues the following, ‘Creativity is above and beyond artists. Therefore, artists are not aware of their products most of the time.’ (…) There is no explanation to creation; there is no explanation to beginning creation… There is also no way of stopping or ending it. Much like everything else that falls in the field of art: beyond it lies silence and mystery.” (Samih Rifat, “Bir Unutma ve Unutulma Öyküsü “, Yıldız Moran - Fotoğrafçı, Adam Publications, May 1998) This exhibition intends to lift a veil of mystery and lend a beautiful sound to silence.

 

The works displayed in the exhibition comprise a careful selection from nearly 8000 negatives, which were printed using archival pigment inkjet printing technique on fine art papers resembling acid-free, traditional cotton photographic paper. Mounted on aluminum composite panels, the display was, in our opinion, created in a style most suited for the innovative mindset of Yıldız Moran, particularly based on her photographs and what she sought to achieve.

 

The tale of Moran, which began with a passion, continued with self-sacrifice, and ended in renunciation, will forever be a part of our world of photography and culture. We bow respectfully before Yıldız Moran, the first academically trained female photographer of Turkey, who opened a photography exhibition for the first time abroad, worked on the conceptualization of photography and perceived photography as a form of art.

Coşar Kulaksız

November 2013

© 2019 Yıldız Moran