EREN EYÜBOĞLU - Istanbul, Turkey 1955
Pera Museum Exhibition Catalogue
Personal histories narrate the history of a given society. The same is also true of art history and photography, which created its own history since its invention in 1839, as it was persistently excluded from art history and not considered a part of it. In each period and country, these histories emerge and are written through artists included in certain movements and approaches. However, there is no single interpretation/reading of any given history, particularly from the perspective of art and life. Due to this multiplicity, each history is incomplete. It needs other things—other readings, unexplored approaches, artists, and the reinterpretation of these artists through their works.
Disregarded, overlooked, and even considered inexistent during their own time (perhaps because they could/did not have any association with a specific movement or group), when certain artists and their works are re-read and re-interpreted in different periods, they play an enriching and productive role, first in terms of their own history and subsequently with respect to the history of global art. Yıldız Moran is one of such names in the history of photography in Turkey (and, in fact, the world).
Although her passionate relationship with photography, which began in 1950, ended 12 years later only to be replaced by yet another passion, the five exhibitions (during the one in Cambridge she sold 25 photographs alone in a single day) she opened in the UK, where she went to study photography after Robert College, the works she produced at the Yıldız V. Moran Portre ve Peyzaj Fotoğraf Stüdyosu (Yıldız V. Moran Portrait and Landscape Photography Studio) she launched at 20, Kallavi Street in Beyoğlu, İstanbul in 1955 upon her return to Turkey, the four exhibitions she opened between 1955 and 1957 in İstanbul and Ankara, and the four retrospective exhibitions she opened in İstanbul between 1970 and 1988 clearly demonstrate her passion for photography and the power of her personal visual language that distinguishes her from other photographers of the period.
Despite the fact that she was the first academically trained, professional female photographer in Turkey and launched a series of national and international exhibitions, the scarcity of information available on the art of Yıldız Moran is an important oversight and loss for the history of photography in Turkey and in the world.
History and tradition of photography cannot be created by excluding what is personal/subjective. History reveals that such attempts carry the danger of uniformity. Photography is a technique based on selection. The eye behind the viewfinder makes the selection. The personal construct of that eye primarily depends on the inner eye, the development of the inner eye, and its protection from outer eyes. So long as the photographer scarifies his/her own perceptions and selections to outer views, general tendencies, and preferences, s/he can never reveal his/her own essence and potential.
As a means of expression long overshadowed by the art of painting and often discussed as to whether it can be considered a form of art, photography underwent its true transformation as of the second half of the 20th century, following the end of two world wars. The photographic image was thus no longer an “objective record,” but rather a “subjective” document shaped and constructed by the perspective of the photographer and made part of his/her personal history. What the image entailed became just as important as how it was created and multiplied.
Much like everyone else, photographers perceive and experience the world as part of the social, historical, political, and economic conditions in which they live. Various manifestations of sense-making, perception and interpretation in different people and in lives shaped by the residues of experiences, expand from the viewer (photographer) to viewed (photographed), and finally reach the audience. This expansion leads to a range of questions, confusions, and ways of seeing in our history, perception, and existence; it not only transforms but changes us as well. In this respect, photography acts as a powerful and effective tool. It can thus be argued that in its nearly two century-long histories, photography has followed a complex and challenging path from general to individual, from direct to indirect, or, in short, from outside to inside.
In-Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes describes journalistic photographs as follows: “I glance through them, I don’t recall them; no detail (in some corner) ever interrupts my reading: I am interested in them (as I am interested in the world), I do not love them.” (Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography translated by Richard Howard, Hill and Wang, 1982, p. 41)
The first time I saw the photographs of Yıldız Moran (to be used in the 1992 agenda of the Women’s Library we were prepared under the title A Selection from Female Photographers), I had sensed the clues of such a longing. Similar to Edgar Allen Poe’s definition that he who is not ill-tempered is not a poet, I had perceived Yıldız Moran (much like many Turkish photographers of the period) to be a conforming photographer; someone looking outside, rather than within, leaning more towards the outer eye. Until that is, I came across a large number of the photographs preserved in the archives of her middle son Olgun Arun.
Beginning with the first ones I looked at -beyond the frames we have seen thus far or were selected to be displayed to us- the photographs I saw, which, in Yousuf Karsh’s words constituted, “a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world” (Mary Price, The Photograph: A Strange, Confined Space, Standford University Press, 1994, p. 123) reminded me of Tina Modotti’s style and photographs at first glance. Despite the difference in generations (Moran was born in 1932, whereas Modotti died in 1942), continents, worlds, and experiences, this similarity was not evident in any other photographs of Moran I had previously seen. The limited number of photographs I had encountered so far did not represent the inner voice of Yıldız Moran; nor did they touch or distract their viewers. On the contrary, those frames carried the traces of an approach that dominated Turkish photography of the period. When we look at the considerably late repercussions Turkey experienced in the 1960s of movements that recall the “straight photography” movement of pre-World War I modern photography that began with Paul Strand in 1900, we often see images from Anatolia (mostly female villagers, children, mountains, etc.) we can define as “social realism.” In On Photography, Susan Sontag writes, “In photography’s early decades, photographs were expected to be idealized images.” (Susan Sontag, On Photography, Picador, 2001, p. 28) It can be argued that (with the exception of Şahin Kaygun) this was true of Turkish photography almost until the end of the 1980s. “Ideal beauties” were sought in photography; lovely nature, beautiful plains, sunrises or sunsets were sought in photography. A number of the photographs Yıldız Moran took in Spain and Portugal; however, are dominated by what Arbus defines as “mischief” they are far from aesthetic purity or idealization and not seek, as Sontag writes, “still want, first of all, to show something ‘out there.”
As much as they glamorize our lives, photographs are, perhaps, rather a collection of losses, the reconstruction of our lives and our possessions over what we are missing, our questionings, and reencounters. The lives we are exposed or subjected to become our existence only with the things disregarded, overlooked, or left outside the circle. Making photography only through solely “beautiful” or “ideal” images impoverishes both life and art.
It is possible to say that the photographs Moran took during her years in the UK, Portugal, Spain, and in İstanbul and Anatolia following her return to Turkey are atypical; they carry the traces of an approach that diverges from her own period.
The language in the photographs of Yıldız Moran stands testimony to the fact, in a way, that the photographer is not in the longitude of time, but in the intensity of the moment. Her images are like an attempt at unmasking she undertakes as she looks at life through unconventional details, frail or faded expressions, rather than wide, monumental frames. In Barthes’ words, this can and does set off a passion beyond what the image allows us to see.
The frames mirror the distance Yıldız Moran traveled in a period in which she could not determine how far and how deep she had to go in order to courageously touch her inner self, her nakedness, and her own reflection. In that respect, we can say that Moran, unlike many other photographers of her period, was able to find herself and create her own style.
Art and photography can become personal when the divergences, and not the similarities, multiply. Each artist/photographer is different. Each photographer lives other realities, experiences or (not experiences) different dreams, disappointments, and states of being himself/ herself. The culmination of all that is lived and unlived constitutes the states of being oneself. These states cannot be generalized or communized. When art is constructed not on consensus but on conflict, it attains the spirit of “uniqueness” and can produce a multiplicity of unfamiliar spirits and worlds through this uniqueness. These multipliers and multiplications are questions, confusions, and somniloquies/eliminations on one’s self, experiences, and life. They constitute resistance— against being lost, remaining without questions, and masks... They are about delving into the life and not surrendering. Art is the most productive and autonomous setting in which these differences can thrive. That is why it is disturbing.
In today’s photography, while the earlier approach of conducting photography to technique alone is abandoned, it is difficult to say that the almost ossified and institutionalized references are entirely disposed of. Dated as far back as 1855, to an art movement defined as “Realism,” the quest for aesthetic purity defended by Modernists in photography and the implementation of perfect compositions were left behind only towards the end of the century. The “golden rule” in composition was replaced by “no rules” and “in an apparent revulsion against the beautiful, recent generation of photographers prefer to show disorder, prefer to distill an anecdote, more often than not a disturbing one, rather than isolate an ultimately reassuring ‘simplified form’ (Weston’s phrase).” (Susan Sontag, On Photography, Picador, 2001, p. 102) The elements that “make” a photograph began to include a comprehensive reflection of the conditions of man that extended from rules to no rules, dreams, lack of techniques, and the inclusion of imperfections.
What makes the photograph is not the sameness that lends soul and depth to the image, but rather the dissimilarity and the side of this dissimilarity that can only be multiplied. All that pertains to art (much like life) recalls the following motto: what makes a difference is a difference itself. At the same time, divergence also entails becoming aware of the ugly, freakish, incomplete, subjective times, lives, and conditions with the opening of fractionalized, ignored and even sidelined worlds within this one. It is about replacing a successful life with a failed one or ordinary images with people that draw attention to their beauty. So long as we ignore the lives and experiences of societies, ourselves, or others, refuse to re-read history through our conflicts, without sincerely asking about feelings, thoughts, and questions, and (can) not create other confusions, we become less participatory in life by embracing the others. For, it is impossible to explain and embrace life only with what is beautiful and perfect; life exists with its contrasts. We distance ourselves from life in the extent to which we ignore these contrasts. Art is not distinct or far from life; it is born out of it and contains all components that make it, while various disciplines (photography, literature, painting, philosophy, poetry, theater, sculpture, etc.) act as intermediaries through which it is executed. In this intermediacy, the important thing is if and how one touches life and all that is alive. In short, photography oscillates between the ideal of perfect beauty and the states of imperfection, the efforts to ornate the world and the urge to take down its mask. In order to break down the forms of accustomed ways of seeing, one has to stand on the axis of such oppositions.
Much like life, the history of photography comes from a similar array; it needs to be read from the point of life, human beings, feelings, new questions, and questionings. Hence, the retrospective debate and discussions on what photography is (art, documentation, copy, excerpt, all, or nothing?) can be conducted from a much healthier, just, and enlightening perspective.
The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present, the first book on the history of photography published by Beaumont Newhall in 1937, is structured around select photographers, countries, and movements. In short, the history of photography, much like the history of art, is created with the exclusion of overlooked, “disregarded” photographers and countries. In order to eliminate the institutionalized approaches, concepts, methods, and selections even prevalent today, and to multiply photography, one must introduce new propositions of visual reading that can allow us to question “the rationale for their exclusion.” (Nanette Salomon, “The Art Historical Cannon: Sins of Omission “, Donald Preziosi The Art of Art History, Oxford University Press 2009, p. 346) until the end of the 1980s, Turkish photography chose to see the general, rather than the personal, using the outer, rather than the inner eye as its guide. For many years, photography in Turkey (and even partly today) pursued the “direct photography” movement the rest of the world abandoned in the 1920s and 30s, which was created through the prefect elements of color, balance, and composition. Far from being personal, the idealized “beautiful” images were presented to the masses and expect to be approved, embraced, and applauded by the majority. Sontag is right: “photography beautifies” but simultaneously loses its identity once it is removed from life, experiences, history, and what is personal/subjective to this extent. The “general” image of photography in Turkey was as such until the end of the 1980s. The fundamental reason behind the creation of a tradition of photography in Turkey was the proclivity towards sameness, rather than differences and distinctions until the end of the 1980s. When the photographs of Yıldız Moran, who began taking photographs in the 1950s, are regarded from this perspective and her identity as a female photographer (a group that easily includes Naciye Suman (1881-1973), Maryam Şahinyan (1911-1996), Semiha Es (1912-2012), and Eleni Küreman (1921-2001), about whom and their works we know little although they were among the 20th-century actors of the history of Turkish photography) is taken into consideration, we encounter a period that can be described almost as the history of “disregard” or “oversight” on the female photographers of this period. Their names and photographs remain unknown…
If and when Turkish photography begins to pursue its own photography over new concepts, approaches, and divergences through fresh propositions of visual reading that began to diversify after the 1980s, perhaps it will then become possible to encounter new “Yıldız” (literally, “star”) Morans and to create a new reading of the history of Turkish photography from the Ottoman Empire to the present.