MOUNT ARARAT / AĞRI DAĞI, Ağrı, Turkey 1956
Eczacıbaşı Photographer Series
Yıldız Moran: A Mountain Tale
You look at a mountain. You look long and hard at a majestic mountain. Then come a moment and the mountain vanishes before your eyes. It is then that the mountain shows you what lies behind it. Looking at a mountain is altogether different from looking at a photograph of the mountain. The reality of what you see depends on your perspective. Nevertheless, you come to realize, at the end of that long session, that the mountain is actually a reason for you to look.
The action of looking has now come to an end and you’ve begun to see. Even though the mountain is a geological formation, it is also a target for many who want to climb its heights. All the tales you heard as a child featuring mountains, all those challenging climbing expeditions, all the texts using mountains as metaphors, towns and villages. They are all behind you now and you have begun to write your own tale of the mountain.
Just like all other objects in the universe, the mountain chooses to show only one of its many faces depending on the intentions of its onlookers. However, the teachings of internal disciplines and subtle sciences all preach convincingly that the act of looking doesn’t necessarily require an object to see. We all have our own mountains. The mountain is a formation that’s envied, desired, targeted, used as a refuge and a place to get lost in. The role it plays in our lives is significant. We all dream of a mountain we would like to be near.
Yıldız Moran represents that majestic mountain in Turkish photography. Using her outstanding feminine sensitivity to create her art, she has presented us with her interpretation of the magical geography that is called Anatolia. For this reason alone, her photographs are as precious as an archeological find and embody secrets that are still difficult for us to decipher today, but which will light the way for future generations.
When I encountered Yıldız Moran’s photography in the early 1980’s, I was still a youth and, at the time, I could never fathom that she would play such a significant role in my life. My first personal interaction with her was during the Honor Awards Ceremony held by the Istanbul State Academy of Fine Arts Photography Institute. It was 1982 and I was still a student. As I became increasingly more conscious of the extraordinary sensibilities reflected in her art, she gradually became an indispensable figure in my life.
Yıldız Moran was the first professional woman photographer to receive formal academic training in her field. Throughout her career, she was always able to communicate, through the sincerity of her art, the great love she felt for life and people. As a result, her signature now adorns some of the most unforgettable works recorded in the history of Turkish photography. Her respect for life and nature, the warmth of her interactions with people, the fine and subtle ways through which she tried to comprehend the universe, and the feminine sensitivity that is present in all her works like an invisible layer are the qualities that contributed to her becoming one of the treasured artists of Turkish photography.
During the post-war era in the late 1940’s, Europe witnessed an extraordinary dynamism and mobility in the realm of photography. In 1947, the world’s leading photography agency Magnum Photos was founded. In 1955, “The Family of Man”, an exhibition curated by Edward Steichen, comprising 503 works by 273 photographers from 68 countries, was held in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was by far the largest exhibition of its kind and the participation it attracted remains unequaled even today. Having introduced different perspectives from the world, it presented the path on which photography would travel from being an act of documentation to artistic practice. (Incidentally, Yıldız Moran sent Edward Steichen a letter dated 25 July 1958, introducing herself and her art.)
A Woman, A Photographer
Especially after 2008, when Yıldız Moran’s archive of works became accessible to the public, her distinct perspective and the qualities distinguishing her from her colleagues attracted much attention. It became apparent that Yıldız Moran had adopted a unique approach defying orthodox views and practices in her handling of subject-matters. She is thus a unique personality in the history of Turkish photography. She reflected her relationship with life most naturally in her Anatolian photographs.
Some photographers attempt to squeeze their entire wealth of knowledge and experience into a single frame. For the sake of creating a strong impression at first sight, they create compositions in which they leave no space for the viewer to contribute their personal responses. Since the natural flow of the universe does not satisfy them, they choose to intervene. They move the objects around, they direct the people as they please. They go to great lengths in their compositional efforts in order to gain more visibility for their work. Far from conveying the magic of the moment, these photographs are set up to demonstrate mastery. But despite all the effort, they quickly lose their charm after the first impression wears off.
Yıldız Moran, on the other hand, always used her camera like an extension of her own body and quietly shot her photographs without ever changing the visual logic of the naked eye. Much like a Zen master, she supplemented the universe and its people with certain qualities of their own geographies and presented the world with comprehensible and unpretentious works. She created her compositions without distorting reality through photographic tricks. She always chose to remain in the moment.
What gives her photographs their timeless value is the sincerity of her approach to her subjects. Those seemingly ordinary moments reveal on closer inspection a myriad of attributes pertaining to life and humans. A pure-minded vision that is grounded in reality has merged with Moran’s academic background to create an original aesthetic. This is the historical factor that transformed Yıldız Moran from the photographer into an artist.
The qualities that distinguish Yıldız Moran’s simple yet enchanting works from other photographs shot in Anatolia also offer us the keys to her art. The quality of her educational background, her knowledge of the right photographic equipment to create good works, and her prolonged exposure to the great artistic heritage of Britain all contributed to the flourishing of a unique photographic perspective in her. It was impossible in those days for Turkish photographers (living locally) to gain the same technical knowledge and experience as Moran.
First and foremost, Yıldız Moran was a young woman. It was to be expected that her photographic approach would differ from her male colleagues’. To start with, everywhere she went, she would inevitably be viewed as a woman with a camera. The world of photography, as in many artistic disciplines, was under the hegemony of men. Nevertheless, that camera somehow kept Moran in the same rank as her male counterparts.
In the early years of photography, other women photographers mentioned alongside Moran were Semiha Es, Naciye Suman, Eleni Küreman and Maryam Şahinyan, whom all created successful works and contributed to the discipline with valuable works. Nevertheless, when the point in question is the actual art of photography, then Yıldız Moran is the only name that’s worth remembering. And just like the other mentioned photographers, she also suffered the adversities arising from being a woman in this profession.
In those days, when a camera was still a novelty, people encountering it for the first time were simply astounded. The apparatus would first bring out feelings of curiosity and embarrassment. After working out what it’s good for, people would either pose or escape to a blind spot. But the most prevalent feeling in those days was anxiety. When we study photographs taken in that era, we see the anxious stares of people and especially children dominating the scenes.
The biggest setback experienced by traveling photographers in those times was the failure to fully explain the reasons why they take photographs. On the other hand, Yıldız Moran, who was able to bring forth her humanistic energy wherever she visited, waited patiently for those perfect moments complementing and reflect- ing her personal vision and then pressed the shutter. Whilst going with this flow, she never invaded the privacy of her subjects or made them anxious. She chose those moments which she believed she could make her own, and borrowed them, only to leave them again in the bosom of history. Her presence was embraced mostly by women and children.
The most outstanding quality of Yıldız Moran’s photographs is their non-assertiveness. They don’t bother to compete with other photographs. They don’t flatter to gain favors. Moved by the wind of the gaze, they burst into action, but, very much like a flag, they always keep hold of their post. Harsh looks can hurt them, but since they are not rigid, they don’t break. The prerequisite for truly seeing and sensing a Yıldız Moran photograph is to look with an open heart.
These photographs are works by a tender young woman full of hope, a mother-to-be who’ll soon quit photography, a Turkish woman using her empathic sensibilities to understand and convey the Anatolian spirit, a woman photographer with a passion for art. Yıldız Moran has changed our perspective with her photographs and helped us rethink our past and future to guide it along a different path.
Yıldız Moran’s Photographic Adventure
If only we had a story and those who heard it claimed it their own..
That’s how our story would grow and spread..
Out of love, out of praise, out of our story
If joining hands would embrace the universe..
Our story would grow and grow;
If everyone would embrace the universe in love.
When we discuss Yıldız Moran’s photography, the time period we’re looking at spans the years between 1950 and 1962, through which she was active as a photographer. Here’s a brief look at her life story: Born in 1932, Yıldız Moran is the youngest of three children born to Nemide Moran and A. Vahid Moran, and the sister of Tosun Moran and İnci Moran, the educator who founded the Moran High School. Yıldız Moran grew up in an artistic environment as the niece of the author Müfide Ferit Tek and Distinguished Professor Dr. Mazhar Şevket İpşiroğlu, the famous art historian.
Her father, A. Vahid Moran, served as Director of the Turkish General Staff’s Intelligence Office. After retiring at the rank of major, he used the language capabilities he gained abroad by preparing dictionaries and created “The Grand Turkish-English Dictionary”, which was one of the best of its kind when it came out. The 3rd edition of this dictionary was published in 1985, but our generation is familiar with the Adam Publications’ print. Actually, the first edition of this dictionary was published by the Ministry of Education in 1945, whereas his earlier “English-Turkish Dictionary” was published – in Latin script, even though it was before the reformation of the alphabet – in 1924 by [Constantinople]: Fratelli Haim.
More importantly, A. Vahid Moran had an amateur passion for photography. The family archive has beautifully shot photographs of his wife and children. Yıldız Moran’s first impressions of photography must have been a cherished legacy of her father. When Yıldız Moran failed a class in her last year at high school, she consulted her uncle, the famous historian Mazhar Şevket İpşiroğlu, who guided her towards getting an education in photography in Great Britain. It was 1950, and an 18-year-old Yıldız Moran was about to launch into the unknown in a new country. This advice from her uncle marked the beginning of her career in photography.
London was the first leg of her journey, and she stayed there from 1950 to 1952. First, she went to Bloomsbury Technical College, which offered vocational-technical training for girls. After completing a year there, she moved on to Ealing Technical College, where photography was studied more from an artistic and theoretical perspective. It was in those days that she developed an understanding of photography as an art and sensed in herself the potential to create significant works. Nevertheless, she still had a long way to go and many photographs to take.
Bearing this vision, Yıldız Moran traveled to several European cities in Portugal, Spain, and Italy to practice her photographic skills. In 1953, with the intention of delving further into the technicalities of photography, she assisted John Vickers, the acclaimed photographer of The Old Vic. Whilst working for him, she deepened her knowledge of light and learned about the subtleties of portrait photography. She was present during the photoshoots of famous actors of the times and gained a great amount of experience which she used in the professional realm, earning a living for herself by taking portrait and lobby photographs.
Yıldız Moran held her first solo exhibition at Cambridge Trinity College in 1953 and attracted much attention. Each and every one of the 25 photographs showcased in this exhibition were sold on opening day.
Moran’s style and approach was thus put to test and confirmed. Within two years, Yıldız Moran held a total of six exhibitions in Great Britain. Her works aroused the interest of photographic circles and found buyers. She was now well aware that in photography she had found the magic key that could help her understand the world and open its doors.
In the meanwhile, it was almost time to return to Turkey. After having spent four years of her life in the UK, training in two different schools, completing her internship and holding her exhibitions, it was time to transport all the knowledge she had accumulated back to her home country and fulfill her mission in photography. It was 1954. Mirroring the beginning of her adventure, her uncle Mazhar Şevket İpşiroğlu was the person to welcome her back and guide her along a new path. He invited her to travel with him to Anatolia to take photographs for the new book he was preparing. These trips into Anatolia helped equip Yıldız Moran with much experience and different ways of perceiving the world as a photographer. But above all else, life was also preparing a surprise for her.
Make me believe in a lie,
The truth of which lasts my lifetime.
(Translated by: Yıldız Moran)
However carefully one plans one’s life, life is full of surprises, and there is a reality called love on the face of this earth. When Moran was searching for a good printing house to have her Istanbul landscapes and Anatolian photographs done in postcard format, she ended up at the printing house of Özdemir Asaf, one of Turkey’s most renowned poets. According to the note jotted down by Yıldız Moran in her journal, it was 4 November 1954, 11 am. This encounter was the beginning of a great love story, a fulfilling marriage with three children. It was when the country’s most famous poet and Yıldız Moran, who would later become a true legend in photography, crossed paths for the first time. Following this encounter, driven by the energy of falling in such deep love, Moran entered a more creative phase.
The studio she opened in 1955 on the top floor of Maya Art Gallery, owned by Adalet Cimcoz, became the meeting place of famous figures. In this studio at No. 20 Kallavi Street in Beyoğlu, Yıldız Moran took portrait and product photographs. During her time there, she created many opportunities for her work to reach art enthusiasts. While working as a professional photographer and making a reputation for herself through the exhibitions she held in Istanbul and Ankara, she was also under pressure to make a living from her practice. Her studio gradually became quite popular. Nevertheless, back in those days, photography was still limited in terms of its areas of use and the interest it attracted. The training she received in Great Britain had given Yıldız Moran a firm knowledge of the technical aspects of photography. She used a 6x6cm Rolleiflex and ran all the darkroom processes herself. In order to make a living, she was obliged at the same time to work on portraits and use her archived landscape photos as a source of professional income.
Yıldız Moran’s portraits were of famous artists who had proven their success in the art circles she frequented. These artists’ inevitable need for such portraits and Moran’s desire to use her photographic mastery to create portraits of historical durability combined to give rise to unforgettable works. Yıldız Moran benefited from the advantage of her educational background in the studio and quickly became a photographer much sought-after by artists.
At the end of this story, Yıldız Moran made a choice between her two loves. In 1963, when she was only in the 12th year of her photographic career, she married Özdemir Asaf, quit photography, and dedicated her life to her three children, Gün, Olgun and Etkin. She replaced photography with translation, editing, and dictionary writing and continued to work in the literary field. But even though she quit at such an early phase, her photographs gained more value in time and continued to attract viewers both at home and abroad.
The British Experience
In Yıldız Moran’s works, we can detect some distinct characteristics of British photography. Her approach was always extremely attentive to her subjects. As a result, people who were caught in her frames were invariably reflected in harmony with their surroundings. She never tried to squeeze too much inside a space or put pressure on people. Instead, she always left a breathing space for viewers to experience their own feelings and thoughts.
She created her impressive works not through elaborate compositions but through her mindful presence in those indescribable, interim moments when she pressed the shutter.
British art preserves its own traditions not only in photography but also in other artistic disciplines like painting and literature. The pictorial quality of the Victorian era acquired a different temperament with the invention of photography. In the art of painting, for instance, capturing photographic moments also came into play alongside the act of posing. Inspired by the poetic quality of literary works and sublime values inherent in mythology, photographers combined these aspects with the traditional visual practices of painting and ended up creating a brand-new means of expression.
For a photograph to be visible, there are certain requirements besides light, such as technical know-how, skills and equipment. Someone with no knowledge of physics, chemistry and optics cannot produce good photography. With the invention of the negative-positive technique by William Henry Fox Talbot in Great Britain, the photograph became an object that could be reproduced. Almost as expensive as a painting initially, it gradually became much cheaper and began its circulation around the world. Thanks to photography, people could learn all about those unknown locations they couldn’t physically visit. Thanks to photography, the world got smaller in size. It was a magical invention that dethroned the art of painting, and it would later transcend its documentary origins and become an art in itself.
British-born Julia Margaret Cameron, the world’s first woman photographer, is a true pioneer in the mythological aesthetic she brought to her art and the way she re-interpreted the tradition of posing in photography. Her photography carries the first traces of today’s portrait tradition. With the photos of her friends enjoying the communal life in nature, Cameron produced the photographic version of the great portrait tradition we observe in painting. In very much the same vein, the portraits Yıldız Moran produced in the studio were of her close circle of artist friends.
When we look closely at Yıldız Moran’s Anatolian photographs, we can see that her photographic vision shared similarities with the British mainstream, which had taken years to form. Nature was copied on the one hand and proportionately stylized on the other. The themes always carried traces of the people who were either in or around the photos. These non-judgmental photographs preserve the natural quality of the flow and the moments and embody the characteristics of their era. The presence of the color grey, as well as black and white tones, is a significant factor in the formation of these works.
Regardless of where she worked – Great Britain, Europe or a remote corner of Anatolia – Yıldız Moran always managed to combine her country’s photographic tradition with her Western education and, contributing her personal sensibilities and perspective to this combination, to achieve a brand-new synthesis. But above all, she had a quality that was not easily found in any other photographer, and that was ‘intuition’. She never let herself get trapped in the transiency of moments. She preserved her aesthetic sense by photographing not the ordinary but that which appeared ordinary. Following her education, her very own land became the plateau on which she challenged her wealth of knowledge.
Those on the world divide into two,
You are one half, I the other..
Then the two of us become one whole
Unperceived by all.
(Translated by: Yıldız Moran)
Invisible Questions; Responses to Life:
"Actually, I wanted to be a painter. In my last year at high school, I was at my uncle’s one-day drinking tea. He said, “Why don’t you take photographs, Yıldız?”. Any uncle can say this to his niece. But when this uncle is Mazhar Şevket İpşiroğlu, then it’s a little different. I wanted to prove that I could do it. I grabbed the opportunity and went to England. I found the school I’d corresponded with. The headmistress said, “Oh no! What are we to do now?”. When I heard this, I thought I must have some paperwork missing and I’d have to go back to Istanbul. But it was nothing like that. She’d exclaimed like that because she was sure London would simply devour a young and foreign girl like me. It was 1951. I spent an entire year there and learned the basics of photography." (1)
Yıldız Moran was very enthusiastic about going to Great Britain and, while there, she discovered photography’s new horizons, accumulated the know-how she’d end up using throughout her entire photographic career, and experienced the joys of living in a new country. Since she was a fluent speaker of English, she didn’t have any communication problems. This experience of living in a new country marked a milestone in the formation of her artistic sensibility and gave rise to her early success.
"Then, I worked with the famous photographer Baron’s assistants for about two years. I benefited greatly from that experience. John Vickers, one of London’s most acclaimed portrait photographers, advised me and said, “Your work is done here. You learned all you can learn. Go now and work for yourself.” I took his advice and went traveling in Spain, Portugal, Italy and North Africa. My exhibition showcases the works I created in those countries. You may laugh now, but I was working with a Rolleiflex camera. It was also a topic of discussion John Vickers and I kept re-visiting. According to him, one could not be a professional with such a camera. I showed him some of my works and he had to give in." (2)
In those days, this Rolleiflex camera shooting 12 frames in 6x6cm format was looked down on by photographers working with large format films. Cameras shooting 36 frames in 35mm (24x36mm) format were still a novelty used mostly used by press photographers. Yıldız Moran had acquired her Rolleiflex to work at a more efficient pace on her favored subjects. Even though the camera functioned in square format, Moran still liked to work on the framing. Nevertheless, her favorite photographer was the Mardin-born, Armenian-Canadian Yousuf Karsh, the great master of portrait photography.
"I don’t like colored photographs… I want to tackle the cinema too… Operate a camera, I mean… The main principles are the same, anyway." (3)
Yıldız Moran always preferred working in black and white. She was enchanted by a world outside of the visible world, a world that can only be communicated through photography. For her, the black and white tones revealed the layer between objects. Then began the dance of light and shadow. Because photography was originally invented in black and white format, a great number of photographers still prefer to work in black and white today, despite the advancement of colored techniques. Besides, it was nearly impossible in those days to access color materials and use them efficiently.
Obviously, cinema is another realm of expression. Yıldız Moran always had an interest in moving imagery. Because when one chooses a moment out of this process which we call life, all remaining moments disappear. Moran was extremely sensitive to this entire process and the images that remained beyond the actual photographs. She thought as much about those moments that escaped as she did about those she caught.
In fact, this state of mind is the greatest tragedy suffered by photographers. The act of looking at and appreciating a photograph is also a requiem for all those other photographs left untouched by the photographer in the flow of time. Moran bravely questioned herself on this point. Her photographs do not only have a lyrical quality but also a melodic one, which can be appreciated on closer inspection.
"There’s a technique involved in the art of photography. Being a photographer is all about mastering this technique. The technique must be so sharp and perfect that it becomes a part of the practitioner, who must use it in or apply it to the simplest, most effective and personal formulas. If one is an artist, then the core issue is no longer about technique. Then, the technique is just a means to an end. Any artist must be able to use his technique to make visible certain realities and beauties that people can’t necessarily notice in the hustle and bustle of their lives. For example, you photograph a child eating an apple and that photo comes to symbolize all children who eat apples. When that happens, that work is a success. If the meaning embodied in the photo is not adequate, then regardless of how good the lighting or the composition is, I don’t shoot that photo. I use light and composition as supporting elements, to communicate something important." (4)
Technique and art are the two important aspects of photography. Depending on the kind of photograph to be shot and the photographer’s approach, these values are applied in varying proportions. Surely, there’s also the message conveyed by the photograph on account of its commitment to reality. This message makes up the meaning of the photograph, and without it, a photograph cannot survive the passage of time. To summarize, when light and composition harmonize with the theme in the right measure and when humanistic energy begins to emanate from the photograph, then it is time for a Yıldız Moran photograph to come into being.
"Photography is a matter that stays on one’s mind 24 hours a day; it must never fade into the background. A photographer is a person who can communicate a part, a piece, a morsel of life in an accentuated, intensified, conceptually fulfilled manner. Suddenly I thought to myself, “Will I be dedicating 24 hours a day to this or are there other matters that are more important for me?”. So, 12 years later, this is how I quit. My marriage and children. If one has found a father like Özdemir Asaf for one’s children, what else can one do? In four years, I gave birth to three kids and began to dedicate all my 24 hourly cycles to my children."
"Small thrills cannot constitute art. One must feel great excitement. It is a fact. If we’re talking about documentary photography, then the spoken word can be effective. In order to do an interview, one must remain objective but still arrive at a conclusion regarding the nature of the phenomenon."
"About the difficulties of being a woman in this profession, well, they are mostly practical. You have to do lots of carrying. But it’s also up to you to minimize your load. There really were difficulties, but they were all external. Wandering around in Anatolia, I could tell that people thought I was peculiar. But being a woman was also an advantage when I was photographing women. I always asked for permission. Verbal or written. We have no right to invade people’s privacy. I was always very careful about that."
"Turkey is a country that embodies many different cultures, a sunny disposition and great artistic wealth. Our country is also a paradise for photographers because of the simplicity of her people." (5)
To become a full-time photographer and dedicate her life entirely to photography was Yıldız Moran’s greatest aspiration. Any action that served to inhibit this aspiration would cause Moran to abandon photography. The power of her enthusiasm was too great to be described in words but became an integral element of her compositions. Sometime after Özdemir Asaf entered Yıldız Moran’s life, her choice quite naturally became clear. The reason why she cut photography out of her life was Moran’s knowledge and respectful appreciation of the fact that small thrills could not make art.
She was Turkey’s first professional woman photographer with academic training on the subject. But before her identity as a woman came her identity as a person of the world. Her compassion and attentiveness to people were so much more than the quality she attributed to her photographs. Art knows no gender. While struggling with some of the difficulties of being a woman, Yıldız Moran related to Anatolians not as a photographer but as a fellow human being who listened and shared their troubles. Photography always took second place to this practice.
"You have to think, design in your mind’s eye what you’ll do and how you’ll do it, how you’ll shoot. So much so that all technical problems disappear to leave you alone with your subject. You have to have full reign of the situation to make this happen. You need to always seek and find the latest developments, the latest possibilities. After coming back (from Great Britain), and even today, obtaining materials has always been the biggest problem. You can’t find the paper you want, you can’t reach the stuff you want. Anyone working in Turkey is a juggler and an acrobat. You work with inadequate paper and you get inadequate results. It is such an obstruction technically that it leaves one with no time to dwell on the content."
"I am happy that I was received with a surprising amount of interest, and I always tried to be deserving of it. But still, one always has one’s internal battles to fight. The problem was finding the concept of photography. To find and develop it. It was necessary to push the boundaries of photography – the boundaries that I myself had defined – and to keep moving in that direction." (6)
Apart from the way it uses the moment, another important aspect that distinguishes photography from other artistic disciplines is its dependability in technical fields like chemistry and optics. Without a good camera, lens and darkroom equipment, it is nearly impossible to practice this art. But what’s indispensable is the presence of a photographer who makes good and full use of all this equipment. In cases where technical problems persist, the content most certainly suffers damage.
There’s no such thing as an easy life. Contrary to what some people think, however brief it was, her involvement with the art of photography made her happy. She had no qualms about all the interest she was attracting, she was happy. Her main challenge was to elevate her art further. The greatest benefit of going through academic training is to know how little one knows and that there’s so much to learn. It meant that Yıldız Moran had to devote more time to photography and work harder.
"The subject, for me, is human. For me, we are two humans connecting. Being a photographer is never in the foreground for me. The two of us greet each other, we talk, we share. We become close."
"In the meanwhile, I look for my angle, find my spot, decide my frame. The person in front of me stays within her individual self. She doesn’t escape this individual self, through straining, stressing or posing. She is cheerful, thoughtful and sorrowful as per all the causes she’s fighting for and all her life. Simply put, she is what she is. I take my photograph. After that, I don’t just scurry away as if my work is done there and there’s no need for any more exchange. I am the same person she met at the start, I talk to her, we say our goodbyes and then I leave." (7)
If Yıldız Moran hadn’t stayed with those beautiful people of Anatolia after photographing them, if she hadn’t listened to their stories, shared their worries, then those photos wouldn’t have been so sincere, simple and beautiful. From the day she opened her exhibition in Cambridge, in 1953, at the age of 21, to the day she departed from this world, in all the interviews she gave, Yıldız Moran always spoke and acted like a true humanist. She always held people, their lives and their stories in profound respect. She embraced those beautiful, warm friendships and her experiences with them as the most precious moments the universe could offer her. For her, these were even dearer and special than those perfect moments captured in her photographs. This is exactly why she is still living among us with her everlasting works.
Yıldız Moran’s Time
We are all humans.
Within a structure called society, we are all individuals with unique and singular qualities. The world is out there for each of us to experience, but we can only experience as much as we allow ourselves to feel. Our fears, inhibitions, ideals, passions, desires and conscience define our living space and lifestyles. As humans, the quality of our existence is dependent on the responsibilities life burdens us with. Do we make choices based on our capabilities? When we look at Yıldız Moran’s life in this context, we can question what factors led to her encounter with photography and how influential they were in her choices. Was it her choice to pursue photography, or was it fate itself that drove her to it?
Yıldız Moran’s photographic career covered a period of 12 years (8 in net total). In a world still recovering from the trauma of World War II and at the threshold of a new decade, the fact that she wanted to train abroad to become a photographer was a significant detail. Naturally, we want to find out about the inspiring and motivational parts of that adventure. But the truth remains that however much we try, we can never acquire full knowledge of this young woman’s innermost feelings or experiences in Great Britain. All that is accessible to us is her photographs which reveal the imprints of this mysterious journey on her life and spirit.
Especially, the photographs Yıldız Moran took so enthusiastically after her return to Turkey embody many secrets. When we study the Anatolian photographs considering the factual history of that period, we can have a better understanding of what she was trying to achieve in photography and the kind of solutions she arrived at. The feeling that we get is not so much about the authenticity created by the interplay between foreign lands and the homeland. It has more to do with the dissolution of the Western code of conduct in Eastern geography.
Maybe those who studied abroad can have a better grasp of Moran’s British adventure. Living inside a different language and culture and allowing oneself to be reshaped by it has both its advantages and disadvantages. You win some and you lose some. As each language brings into play its own semantics, syntax and expressive logic, the authentic tongue will naturally constitute an opposing force to this newcomer. Yıldız Moran’s fluency in English was obviously a great advantage from which she benefited immensely during her education. Indeed, the greatest advantage enjoyed by those artists who take time abroad is their encounter with a wealth of ideas and knowledge.
A kind of osmosis takes place for this interaction to happen. Gradually it ends up having a decisive influence on the behaviors of the person affected. As Barthes says: “What I can name cannot really prick me.” (8) The everlasting quality that slowly but surely transported Yıldız Moran to our day is that “thing” which was not seen by the spectators of her day and which we can hardly express or define even today. The “punctum” – in other words, the striking, piercing element which touches the spectator – is literally dispersed over the entire surface of Yıldız Moran’s photographs. Even though it’s not noticeable through singular objects as such, it definitely prevails over the entirety of the photograph.
In those days, the shortage of materials was a bigger problem than it is today. Getting hold of films or photo papers, especially of a quality preferred by Yıldız Moran, was very difficult under the country’s import regime at that time. There were no photography schools in Turkey, but classes were offered at the Fine Arts Academy (today’s Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University). Teachers with backgrounds in painting, students, and artists who’d studied abroad on scholarships all knew that photography was held in high esteem in Europe. Painters especially benefited from the new horizons and perspectives offered by photography.
Nevertheless, obtaining a good camera was nothing short of a challenging task at the time. There was still a long way to go for the camera industry to reach the masses with their products. Those who were blessed with cameras could access the secrets of both worlds and use them in their artistic practice. On photography’s path from a documentary form to artistic practice, its integration with art was, of course, critical. The most important function that distinguishes photography from the painting was the camera’s memory, which resisted forgetfulness despite its mechanical and optical structure. As time passed, the traces of daily life gained in value. With the advance of photography, the concept of ‘the moment’ began to infiltrate the arts.
Under such challenging circumstances, the photographic discipline firmly advanced from being an invention to an art form. With the education she received in Britain, Yıldız Moran made a high-level entry into this world. She successfully applied this advantage to her relatively short career in photography and produced some unforgettable works that preserved their value through the passage of time. Having attained cult status today, they are forever etched in our memory. From a contemporary perspective, there’s only one word that can adequately describe this phenomenon, and that word is “success”.
When we study Turkish photography in view of the country’s social, economic, political and historical progress, we inevitably come across the works of Yıldız Moran, who came on stage in the 1950's as an important figure of the early period. Moran was an artist who knew exactly what she wanted to do and with the new perspective she gained through her academic education, she created a photographic language that is both fresh and unique. Her unparalleled approach can most effectively be detected in her Anatolian portfolio, and it is exactly what makes her work still relevant today.
Yıldız Moran’s photographs of the Bosphorus in springtime or Sultanahmet covered in the snow reveal her mastery of landscape photography. The moments she captured during her Anatolian journeys were no less impressive. Furthermore, her portrait photographs – usually done in front of infinity backdrops – were admired by many. Several of Turkey’s renowned figures are now recorded in the annals of history with the unforgettable poses they presented to Moran.
Yıldız Moran’s detail photography and abstractions also deserve our attention. Especially in her Anatolian portfolio, besides photographing people’s lives, she also focused her lens on different details. Objects divorced from their function, shadows, traces left by nature and humans, all transformed in her photographs into abstract masterpieces of black and white. Yıldız Moran made visible what was invisible to most.
As countries and art forms pass through the windy tunnels of time, they will surely acquire new forms. Sometimes the products of popular culture miss the chance of becoming works of art and instead gain “kitsch” status. Sometimes they are re-discovered years later and end up gaining masterpiece status. There is no formula to explain how this happens. Some works embody a certain worth carefully concealed inside by the hands of their creators and this gem eventually breaks through all obstructions to reveal its brilliance. A very powerful example of such phenomena is Johann Sebastian Bach, whose works are still performed, recorded and appreciated after the passage of three centuries and hundreds of composers since his death. In a similar vein, the time has certainly been kind to the photographs of Yıldız Moran.
When we take down the curtains of nostalgia, we immediately become aware of a hidden aesthetic in her photography. Actually, in this way, our search for the cause leads us to the effect. Any study of the history of Turkish photography will reveal Yıldız Moran as its indisputable queen, a position also confirmed on the international platform. Despite the shortness of her career, the artistic quality and aesthetic sense she contributed to photography continue to conquer the hearts of curators, photographers and spectators of the 21st century.
For a healthy review of Yıldız Moran’s photography, we must study both the 1950’s, when she created her works and the 1980’s when these works began to circulate again and were regarded from a different perspective. We can thus observe the changes that occurred during this 30-year period. The 1980's was a special time when computers entered our lives, the Internet came into being, and foreign books were imported and translated into Turkish. It was also a time when several breakthroughs were happening in the arts. In light of these developments, new criteria were introduced to review artworks.
Young generations of photographers also adopted this pro-contemporary approach and applied it to their practices. Most of these young and upcoming photographers were trying to develop their own unique style. Especially after the coup d’état of 12 September 1980, Turkish artists and art lovers refused to bow down to the socio-political climate of the time and were motivated to make a stand for a different kind of existence. This movement directly affected a change not only in society but also on individuals’ bearings in life. In short, despite all the drawbacks, the world of culture and arts ended up benefiting from this period of introversion.
To arrive at a correct reading of the photography of Yıldız Moran, who had already built her photographic foundation in the early 1950’s, we need to refer to the theoretical studies carried out in the 1980’s. The works of Susan Sontag, John Berger and Roland Barthes are especially noteworthy in this context. But it is really in the 2000’s that we can safely say we attained the intellectual infrastructure required to understand Yıldız Moran and her works.
What gives Yıldız Moran’s works their inherent value and strikes the exhibition makers and curators who happen to discover them long after their creation is the aesthetic of an extraordinary sense of reality which seems to arise almost from a different dimension. As art made its way through history, not only the artworks themselves but also the spectators’ gaze have changed. In this sense, 2008 can be considered a milestone in Yıldız Moran’s career. It was then that her archived photographs were brought into daylight through the diligent efforts of her family (her son Olgun Arun and his wife Nazlı Arun).
Yıldız Moran passed away in 1995. In 1998, 18 years after the last exhibition held when she was still alive, the “Retrospective-Vintage” exhibition opened at Adam Sanatevi. In 2011, Moran’s photographs were admired by the international art community at the 12th Istanbul Biennale themed “Untitled”. In 2013, a selection of Yıldız Moran’s photographs – the largest to date – was showcased at the Pera Museum’s first personal retrospective exhibition for a Turkish artist, under the title of “Timeless Photographs”. Especially after this last exhibition, her photographs won the undisputable acclaim they truly deserved from all photographic authorities. The attentiveness and polyphony she introduced into her photographs was much more than a conception. It was a language in its own right and continues to influence new generations of photographers.
Yıldız Moran the Photographer
When joie-de-vivre and respect for the universe and all its phenomena are combined with a passion for work and production, then great art can be made. Nevertheless, in order to explain the aesthetic inherent in Yıldız Moran’s photographs, we need to look for more. Through the innovations she brought to her photography, Yıldız Moran managed to activate different layers of perception not just in other photographers but also in spectators.
> She was a dedicated follower of the black and white tradition. Through the perfect precision with which she captured her photographs, she convinced nearly all of us that the world comprises only black, white and grey tones and that there’s no such thing as color.
> Her photographic knowledge was surpassed by no one in her time. She had a perfect grasp of art history and art theory as well as the history and technique of photography. Still, she took a modest stand before the photographs she captured. She had enough foresight to discern that the heyday of theme-based moments and photographs serving popular tastes was coming to a close.
> She followed the British photographic tradition both in her landscapes and portraits. For her portraits, she preferred the studio approach using sharp lighting to reveal the person’s features. For her landscapes, she created serene compositions allowing the emptiness of space to take on meaning.
> Since the Rolleiflex had to be held at chest level and not at eye-level like a 35mm camera, her shooting angle was slightly below the normal direction of the gaze. It was a factor that served to uplift her photographs and empower her images. The person looking at the photographer was about to get recorded in history 30 or 40 cm below the estimated sightline. This triangle formed between the photographer’s face, the camera’s lens and the photograph’s subject carries within it the formula of magical photos.
Let us also not forget that these double-lens cameras without mirrors also reversed the polarities on the horizontal plane, showing the right-hand side on the left and vice versa.
> She had no interest in photographs that claimed center stage, flying in the face of the spectator. She took her photographs quietly. The moments on which she focused her lens were seemingly ordinary, yet extraordinary frames. Abstract moments, details overlooked by everyone take the leading role in her photographs. Her photography stands out with its independent and unique character. Because she was such a unique artist, she had no disciples, nor teachers. Her photographs defy categories.
> Moran never had room for the tripod in her life. In order to respond to each and every motion she felt in the universe, she stood ready, waiting to run towards the moments. She knew that good results came as a result of hard work. She never used the tripod even in the studio. She captured those moments that held the light in a perfect embrace. A single centimeter or a single second is often enough to miss a photograph. She knew that well.
> She relied on her own sensibility to combine her Western upbringing with the traditions of the East. She chose her intuition over her professional stance. She felt the approaching steps of a photograph. If the eye, the front sight and the rear sight are aligned, there you have the makings of a photograph that shall make history.
> From the very beginning, she was aware of the universality of photography. She knew that just like a piece of music, a photograph taken in a specific country had the power to move the heart of a person standing anywhere in the world, and it would, therefore, leave its mark wherever it traveled. Regardless of the geography in which she worked, she created her works with the conviction that their essence would be felt by anyone who could spare them a selfless look.
> She received a Western education but she was never an Orientalist. Actually, her works were in harmony with the essence of Modernism prevailing over her era. During her European travels, she displayed the documentary style of Magnum photographers. Into her Anatolian photographs, she lyrically blended an epical taste. This is the quality that gave her photography its unique character.
> Her photographs have a sense of nobility in them. The respectful distance she puts between herself and her subjects leaves a similar impact on the spectator. She knew exactly how close the photographer should stand in relation to the subject. She wanted to have an overview of things, so she stood slightly outside the photograph. When necessary, she changed the proportions through horizontal or vertical framing during the printing phase.
> The basic ingredient she blended into her photographs has been around since the beginning of human history. Every gene that is cross-fertilized with this ingredient is bound to produce a fine flavor. The technical formula is concealed inside the aesthetic. To taste the flavor of her photographs, one needs to be a true follower of art. However apt you may be at expressing yourself, translating good things into words is nearly impossible. At this juncture, it’s best to leave the photographs to speak for themselves.
> She used light and composition as a means to transform people into photographs. Philosophically speaking, each human being is as precious as the next one. Whether they be artists or peasants, they fundamentally deserve to be treated with the same respect. This was her conviction and she never trespassed the light, she never came in-between the light and the subject. For her, children, animals, laborers were all one and the same in terms of the space they occupied on the photograph and the amount of silver they burnt on the film’s surface.
> For such concrete images to have such abstract flavors is more than just poetical, it is an act of praise honoring all universal values. Her photographs don’t question, describe, analyze or judge. She quietly places us inside an environment that is verbally indescribable. She just reminds us of our human nature.
> Her photographs show what can only be seen with the eyes of the heart. Therefore, she needs spectators who will gently and sincerely hold her photographs in their attentive gaze. A gaze that is blessed with culture and respects production, a gaze that is unprejudiced and clear. Isn’t that where the universe hides all its secrets?
> To say that her photographs have a timeless quality is not a commentary, it is the statement of a fact. These works that rendered years and geographies irrelevant both when they were taken and when they were reviewed, continue their motion inside the abstract seas of time. Geographies have changed, people have died, many things have happened but moments remained. Looking at her works, the only comment we make on-time would be about the date marked on the photograph.
> She was the daughter of a cultured family, a woman with an academic background, a photographer sworn to comprehend the world through her camera, and an artist who accepted it as her mission to communicate in a universal language and make it her own. Her feminine sensibility played a decisive role in her life, especially when she was photographing women. Yıldız Moran was firstly a human being, and then a photographer. In all her photographs, she always placed her own point of view on a route stretching from the emotional to the artistic. All the values she believed in and her perception of the world made her the queen of photography.
To Begin and To Quit
If there’s love, then let us make love..
If there’s a fight, then let us fight..
In this life where we share even death
We’ll equally share.
To begin is a choice. Just like quitting is… One feels, one thinks and one decides. This inherent quality convinces one that he’s here on this earth to do things. Just like inaction is a choice, constantly pushing oneself to do something all the time is also a choice.
When the individual’s psychology is combined with his family’s assets and disposition, his social circle and environment, the influence of his friends, and genetic features that will be activated in the future; then that individual will be accepted as part of a social construct and will gain an identity as such. After that, his personal talent will really be the one quality that distinguishes him from others in society.
While we make choices in life, we are also chosen by some people. Our interaction with the universe shapes us. Where we are now and what we’re doing is the result of the choice we make. Walking through the corridors of life, we make important choices; we either stay or go. Life presents many opportunities, but our decisions are guided sometimes by our own will, sometimes by the influence of others. A decision is a promise given to the universe, on the condition that we endure all its outcomes.
Yıldız Moran, with her influential works, is like a majestic mountain in the Republican Period of Turkey’s photographic art. In order to understand her sublimity and appreciate her value, one needs to look long and hard at her life and works. The atmosphere Moran reflected in her photographs seems to have leaped out of a magical mountain tale. Our country’s photographic art discipline owes a debt of gratitude to Yıldız Moran for teaching an altogether different language that has in its essence love for humanity.
Moran, a woman, appeared on our country’s male-dominated stage of photographers. She struggled through many problems, some we know and some we don’t. But she overcame all of these with her passion for photography, her hard-working nature and her determined spirit. She embraced her sensitive soul and knew exactly how to express it through her photographs, which were and would be received with much admiration. The value of her photography is on par with exemplary works of contemporary art.
If photography is a language, Yıldız Moran speaks it with an accent that most beautifully befits it. It’s not easy to tear oneself away from listening to her. And she gives us 12 years of her life. As if abandoning an old mansion with a library of 40,000 books, she quietly exits from our lives. We hide her, like the pale memory of a photograph, in the depths of our hearts. Kissing her hands and cheeks, we release her back to where she came from – the sea.
Years have passed, seasons have changed, eras have ended, the world has entered a new millennium and with snow melting on mountaintops, Yıldız Moran’s aspirations and contributions to the art of photography have all come into the daylight. Having devoted the best years of her life to photography, Yıldız Moran allowed us a peek into a brand-new world.
Thank you for having been there, Yıldız Moran, thank you for being there.
Yüksel Söylemez, An Exhibition That Shall Not Close, Son Saat, 6 March 1955
Yüksel Söylemez, An Exhibition That Shall Not Close, Son Saat, 6 March 1955
Yüksel Söylemez, An Exhibition That Shall Not Close, Son Saat, 6 March 1955
Selma Yazoğlu, What Does Yıldız Moran Want To Do?, Yirminci Asır, 23 May 1957
We Have a Guest: Turkey’s First Woman Photographer Yıldız Moran, Ses Magazine, Vol:25, 15 June 1983
Early Republican Turkish Photography 1923-1960, Seyit Ali Ak, Remzi Kitabevi, April 2001
“Yıldız Moran and Her Photographic Art”, Özdemir Asaf, Cumhuriyet, 28 November 1970
Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes, Translated by Reha Akçakaya, Altıkırkbeş Yayın, pg. 22