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FALL MARKET / GÜZ PAZARI, Anatolia, Turkey 1955

FALL MARKET / GÜZ PAZARI, Istanbul, Turkey 1954

Per Lindström

Focus: Turkey Exhibiton Catalogue

June 2014

Yıldız Moran: "The lady who touches the light"


She is “The woman who touches the light”. As the first academically trained female photographer in Turkey, Yıldız Moran (1932–95) is today viewed as an important role model and has long been regarded as one of Turkey’s foremost photographers from the 1950’s. Early in her career, she received international acclaim, foremost in Great Britain where she first studied photography and later practiced before returning to Turkey. Today there is renewed interest in her black-and-white pictures from, among other places, Anatolia, the part of Turkey which sometimes is called Asia Minor, and the lyrical imagery she used to describe the people in “the land of the sunrise”.


Moran was born in Istanbul and grew up in an academic home. Her father was a linguist and professor, and she was only 18 years when an uncle, who was an art historian, convinced her that photography was a worthwhile profession. And already after a few exposures, she knew that she had found her calling. She received a thorough education in photographic technique, first in Istanbul, then in London and Cambridge. She had the London photographer John Vickers as a mentor, and traveled extensively in Italy, Spain and Portugal, among other countries.


She returned to Turkey in 1954, where she established herself as a photographer. After just a few months she met someone by chance who was to become the love of her life. It was November 4th, at eleven in the morning at a small printer’s office where she met the poet Özdemir Asaf for the first time and fell for his “sparkling intelligence”. Eight years later he became her husband and they had three sons, who today jointly manage the inheritance of two successful parents.


In 1955 she opened a studio in Istanbul, but continued with her own projects alongside commercial work. The freedom in choosing what to capture with her camera was decisive, to be a photographer was to her never a 9-to-5 job. You need to be a photographer 24 hours a day to succeed, she explained in an interview in 1992 when asked why she stopped taking pictures in 1962.


In her new role as wife and mother she felt she had found something more important than photography and when her son Olgun Arun is asked in 2014 about the reason, his response is “motherhood instinct”. The intellectual stimulation and challenges that photography previously had given her now came from her work in translating Turkish writers into English – and English writers into Turkish. With the same energy and dedication that she approached photography, she updated and extended her father’s great Turkish-English dictionary. And her dream – that once the boys had left the nest to use her Rolleiflex again – was there, but failing health resulted in the camera being left on the shelf.


It was through her many exhibitions that Yıldız Moran secured her place in the history of Turkish photography. Already at her first exhibition in Cambridge 1952, she sold all her pictures on the first day, her success continued with several exhibitions in London, and, after her return to Turkey, Ankara and Istanbul. In 1970 it was time for the first retrospective exhibition with Moran in Turkey. More followed and as recently as November 2013 “Timeless Photography” opened at Pera Museum in Istanbul.


In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Cosar Kulaksiz states that Moran was brave to choose to study abroad at a time when it was almost unthinkable for a young, single woman. But she knew what she wanted. It was human beings that interested her. She was very careful that her “photographer persona” never got in the foreground, that the picture was taken with respect, but that she searched for the angle and determined the frame.


She saw Anatolia as incredibly colorful heaven for photography, where the people were plain and accessible. She wanted, even though she always photographed in black-and-white, the colors of the landscape and the people to associate to what is universal and prevalent. If it didn’t, she thought that the photograph did not attain its objective.


Esra Ozdogan lauds her choice early in life and the decisiveness with which she approached her work: “Moran’s discourse on photography is just as striking as her photographs and fresh as though it were just articulated today. Moran’s unparallelled place in Turkish photography should be explained not only by her gender, her certified education abroad, or her solitary travels across countries she photographed, but also in terms of her deliberate choice to install the plain reality in her photographs behind her art in the golden age of documentary photographs and objective aesthetics”.


A letter to the American photographer Edward Steichen in 1958 reveals how great her ambition was. He was at that time seen as one of the world’s greatest and headed the photo department at the highly regarded Museum of Modern Art in New York.


She tells him about her background, asks for advice on how to develop herself as a photographer and encloses a few copies. The aim, which can be understood between the lines, is to get her photos exhibited in the USA.


Steichen responds after 6 months and states that her photographs, even though of high quality, look too much like the ideals of the time – “too much in the standard pattern of great mass” – and because of that are not interesting enough. He is sorry that he is unable to give her the advice she asks for to develop her photography, and ends with telling her that her photography shows both talent and interest, but that she has a long, dark and difficult way in front of her should she seek true success. Today time has caught up with her work and it is easier for us to see the quality inherent in her photographs. How she reacted to Steichen’s frank response is not known, only the fact that she saved the letter.


She left behind around 8,000 negatives and a hundred vintage prints which have formed the basis for the half dozen retrospective exhibitions shown after her death in 1995. All but two were in Turkey – in 2012 Stedelijk Museum in the Netherlands showed “In what language shall I tell you my story”. In addition, her works were shown in 2008 at Fotografie Forum in Frankfurt during the exhibition “Turkish Realities”.


“Focus: Turkey” in Landskrona, Sweden, during the summer of 2014, will become the third.

Per Lindström

June 2014


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