"Book etc." with Orhan Cem Çetin

Orhan Cem Çetin
Eren Sulamacı - Şener Soysal
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We intended to have a conversation with Orhan Cem Çetin on photobooks. Our aim was to talk about "Bedava Gergedan" and "Kara Kutu Cep Kitapları." We were lucky and a different conversation opened up with other photographers talking or listening.

When people practicing various art mediums met and sat around a table, we did not only talk with Orhan Cem Çetin nor solely on books. So, you will be reading a conversation with Orhan Cem Çetin on "Book etc."

On Publishing PhotoBooks and the Relationship between the Designer and the Photographer as a Dance...

Eren Sulamacı: Let's begin with photobooks. You've also been to our lecture, maybe we can begin by asking how you found it.

Orhan Cem Çetin : I really liked the course of the lecture. I think it is very important that people coming from design and photography backgrounds giving a lecture together. Maybe you can say "So what, it is obvious" but for example, students in Bilgi and Bahçeşehir can think of photobook as a dissertation. We always remind them: "Look, what comes out of it is a design product. You have to consider the possibilities of it." But usually, the outcome is books solely set up as photos on pages, similar to an exhibition catalogue. That is to say, what emerges is something in which design possibilities are not put into use. However, one should consider the book as an exhibition space, a portable gallery, and pay attention to viewer's experience as well.

For example, people usually don't pay attention to this: Photographers tend to do everything on their own. In the past, it was more substantial, like "if you don't print your own photos you aren't considered as a photographer." Like letting someone do some part of the job is excluding one of the profession. But I always give the example of architecture, the architect doesn't raise the building, s/he only designs it and that's it. Or a director doesn't have to use the camera when s/he is making the movie. So, doing a collective work, receiving support for design, producing collective ideas are also precious.

Eren: Can we say it's like choreography? Photographer is like a choreographer.

Cem: You mean the execution is done by another?

Eren: Yes. For example, Pina Bausch explains the dancer like "I want it to be like spring, there should be sun..." and says "I want you to do a move" and the dancer does it.

Cem: Choreographers call it a creative dancer. They give some direction, for example say "Imagine a pit in the middle of this living room. When you come to the side of that pit, you tumble in it." They sit, start to watch and catch some expression. They spot some movement and say "Wait, don't forget it" and store it.

Şener: Seeing some movement/scene and telling the people not to forget it sound directly like photography to me. Not only mind records something, it is also a film, a memory card.

Cem: Yes, exactly. They store the movements that serve the purpose or the ones they find close to what they have in mind within that improvisation, and include them into the choreography. Basically, this is not premeditated, they draw something within that improvisation. Taking photos is exactly the same.

Eren: In a photobook, the designer distinguishes the bodily movement the dancer cannot do or the choreographer cannot imagine in representational terms. You tell the designer "I want such a paper that when I want to touch it, I feel something fragile and touchy, cos my photograph is like that as well" and s/he finds you that paper.

On the Difference between Printed Books, Digital Revolution and Listening to Music...

Eren: In  Ara Güler's book and also in Thames&Hudson's copy of it, you have the same hardcover. Both are the same in sentimental terms. But, for example, someone did the cover from cerement, there is another feeling and preference here.

Cem : I also care about this rather than persistence. Like, my book is this Kindle. I have been reading books with this for some time now. To me, the book you make has to be something that cannot be embedded in this. And after I got the Kindle the number of books I read increased remarkably. Therefore, you have to have a really good reason to publish a book on paper. It should be something you can't reach through here or the screen.

Anyway, to me, that is the reason why the notion of "photobook" or "artist's book" comes to the fore as something special. For a person to buy it, hold it, want to own it, it should offer something else than a book which has pages inside its cover.

Eren : Something other than seeing the photo on a wall...

Cem : Or it should be something other than seeing the photo on a wall, yes. And surely, it is a good thing. Because the relation we have with corporeality and touching has changed, handmade things become desirable, like the idea of unplugged.

Actually, digital revolution manifested itself firstly in music, sound. Understanding the changing processes in music makes sense to me. Virtuosity as dexterity first opened to question in that field. A guy composes a symphony in his computer. These things were experienced early in the field of music. Or some music recorded on CD being identical with the original, not being able to distinguish it from the copy...The same thing happened in the transition from tape to CD. And then we have the outbreak of mp3! Finally they began to distribute it for free, and concerts gained importance.  

Cemil Batur Gökçeer: Mallarme has a poem called "A Throw of A Dice Will Never Abolish Chance." He builds the meaning of the poem using the sequence of words and different font sizes in different words. It is also a reaction to the revolution in printing with the emergence of printing houses and later to index, design, speed.

Cem: Certainly. When you release the music in an LP record, after you play it for 25-26 minutes it pauses, it is about its capacity. The time limit changed with CD, and with online music it transformed into a completely different thing. The medium compels some specific format surely. Let's say you listen to symphonic rock and it "fades out" there. You have to collect yourself and turn the record.

Öykü Canlı : But there are also people who produce their works considering the format and the experience. For example, Pink Floyd took this into consideration in their records.

Cem : Yes, yes. You can also think of it as a possibility to exploit rather than something negative. You can turn the obligation to turn the record in 26 minutes to an advantage. My book Bedava Gergedan is a very classical one, just I said it is pages between two covers. But I also included a calibration related to reading rate. You have to caliber yourself, otherwise the text doesn't leave the same impression. You cannot just read it at a rate you wish.

When we are designing the pages with Mehmet Ulusel, we just put a black page in-between spontaneously. That's the famous dandruff control page...

Şener: The page you cannot do in Kindle.

Cem : Yes, you cannot do it in Kindle. And you cannot do the leaps easily as well. Throughout the book, there is a harmony, a flow, a feeling tone, crescendos. But because you don't have it in the narrative there is no thematic flow. So you can begin reading from wherever you want.

Öykü: Can you customize the fonts, sizes in Kindle?

Cem : Yes you can, but when the size changes all the pages shift. There is no page as we know in Kindle, there is only location.

Öykü: There were many times I bought books from a specific publishing house just because I couldn't read the version published in another easily.

Cem : Design...And not only that, I used to work in a press publishing children's books and I always keep that in mind. You always take into consideration that a child will read that book or an adult will read it to the child. Especially for preschool years, someone will read it and show the pictures. Or the child will start learning to read firstly with that book. The font you use, words, the simplicity of the pictures, their size...What I am trying to say is this: When I was a kid, my father brought me a book made out of cloth. The book had only animal pictures, made with cloth without any writing.

Öykü: So, you can erase it?

Cem : Sure, you can wash it, erase it...But whatever you do, you just cannot tear it. And this for instance, is fantastic! As you know, Esen Karol has amazing book designs. There was an exhibition in Arter, the Australian artist Patricia Piccinini's, her silicon sculptures, remember? Some odd imaginary creatures, they were looking scary, but also in human poses. The artist used in the cover of the book a heat sensitive ink. As far as I am concerned, there was a black area, when you hold it the place your finger touches on becomes transparent because of your body heat and there appears a writing. The book reacts to you and I find it awesome.

Öykü: It opens itself to you.

Cem : And it happens when you touch it, it is unbelievable. There you have a reason to own it, something which distinguishes it from an e-book. For example, you also have it in business card designs, it has a standard and when you comply with it, it becomes one of the many. And when you go beyond the standard, then one cannot throw it away. For instance, when it is very small, very big, when it is triangle. When you don't comply with the A4 standard, and even for something that simple, your work becomes different. I find it similar to this, if a book is a medium, you have to consider it as exhibitions specific to some place or specific choreographies. You cannot just exhibit it in another space, you cannot do that performance in another place. That work brightens the space itself, and also, it makes viewers' experience unique. We have to consider book design in these terms, that series won't be in another format.

On the Design and Publishing of "Kara Kutu Pocket Books"…

Şener : I guess the need for publication of "Kara Kutu Pocket Books" is that the accessibility of photography was limited at that time. While today lots of photographers fit into our pocket digitally, I think at that period it was necessary.

Cem : Yes, sure. And it is in its second format actually. We did some changes in the design in 13th and 14th books. I reduce the format into a CD-booklet size, 12x12 cm, when you fold it from a 70x100 cm sheet, a book is made from one sheet. Before that, the size was different. At that time, I was taking photos for Reklamevi and we meet frequently with Bülent Erkmen as a part of the relationship between the advertising agency and the photographer. So, we asked his advice saying "We are thinking of publishing a book series, would you like to contribute?" So, he did the design, outlined the theme. At that time, Bülent Erkmen did his designs with this idea of inner-outer cover. For the outer cover there is a fine-textured paper, for the inner thick glossy cover, and then the remaining pages were simple. We applied this idea to the Kara Kutu albums as well, but when you take it in your hand outer cover creases, wrinkles cos the inner cover is hard, and it tears quickly, so people didn't like it.

Also, a standard was set saying there is a portrait of the photographer on inner cover. I guess, the first two was Nazif Topçuoğlu and Mesut Güvenli, I was preparing them in twos at that time. Nazif immediately refused to put his portrait, he said "What's the point, what is my face doing there!" I said "But the designer, Bülent Erkmen wants it this way." He said "No way! People will think I did the series when I was looking like that." And when he said "What is the connection, why am I showing my face to people?" and I realized him to be right. So we abandoned the idea. When it was published, Bülent Erkmen saw it and said "It is not what I wanted" and refused his name to be on the copyright. So, the book was published without naming the designer, we only specified the design application. Then I got tired of this and from the 12th book on, I started designing the books. I mean I say design, but it's nothing much...

Eren: So, let's entitle it dashingly as your first photobook.

Cem : I also ached to publish my own book, but we postponed it thinking people would say "The guy is a publisher and he publishes his own book." So, I published my own series as the 14th book.

Öykü: You postponed it quite a long time.

Cem: At first we had a sponsor, but in this book we didn't have any. So, we started having problems financing it. Then, the series ended. Not ended, but we took a break.

Eren: I guess, all similar stories about photography end like that. We started having problems financing it and...

Şener: Stories in which one waits for the prince in a bell jar. One needs a kiss to wake up.

Cem: At first, we planned to publish 2 books within a 2 months period. The period was like this, but when you voice it, people understand it as a periodical publication. We were also distributing it, so the distributers tried to give back the first 2 when a new one is published. But it is not a magazine. We used to leave it in different places; laboratories, Uncle Şahabettin, bookshops...And they said "They are too small. They fall behind the shelves, so it seems we sold them. We have to pay for it even it is there." Robinson sold them, then they also refused to take them. Or we asked them to put the books on the counter. And they said "Then people think of them as brochures and take them, and we don't get any money." Everybody loved the idea, but nobody wanted to buy them.

On What is a Good Photograph, Viewing Time and Sound Installations on the Radio...

Eren: In FUAM Photobook Festival, someone came up to me saying "I want to buy this book" and we had a long talk. But he came to our stall after the stall right next to us, selling Ara Güler and Kamil Fırat books. And our stall was a bit complex, there are engineers, architects. He said, they were bad. And I told him let's talk about good photography.

Şener: So, if the book is hard cover and bound, then the photographer is good?

Eren: They are good, that's ok, but there is another side to it. We got enough of good photography. The title of my master thesis was: "All the good photographs are taken, let's talk about the bad ones."

Cem: We had our fill of good photography...

Eren: But I think what we can call as an interesting photographic experience, can be through books.

Cem: Why do you think like that?

Eren: First of all, it is something you can carry everywhere, and exchange with people. Exhibition is temporal, Batur's exhibition was open for a month and it ended. I cannot live the same experience, but I can still look at that portable exhibition space after 30 years.

Batur: And also, there is something the photographs convey together. It creates a space in which when you take out a photograph from that book it cannot give the meaning, but only when they are all together. There is a movement in photography and that movement creates something progressing recurrently, inviting the eye and allowing for a revival.

Eren: Another issue is the pace of looking at photographs.

Batur: For example do people see the books in photobook fair as they do in a book fair? Is it possible? No, it's not. In FUAM or other places, the rate of looking at a photobook is similar to the rate of looking at a magazine. There is an odd rhythm irrelevant to the book when you are flipping through pages.

Cem: But there are hundreds of books there and it is impossible to spare the due time. It is only when you own the book, what you say can be true.

There is this, as some of you may know, I used to do a broadcast on radio, Gaygoni A.G. It was about the art of radio, a field of art and we play the exemplary pieces. We also used it as an open stage, there were live performances. This is something a radio broadcast in Austria started. Their manifesto was creating sound sculptures through a radio broadcast. This enables opportunities for both the artist and the listener. Because it is a radio broadcast, you can listen to it anywhere and the sounds you make there have to mix with the sounds of environment the listener is in. There you have a copy peculiar to the listener, where you cannot find anywhere. In this sense, everybody has their own edition. Secondly, you can make something very unpleasant, boring and disturbing as an artist, and when the listener doesn't like it s/he just switches the channel. So, you have the chance to go to the extremes cos you know the possibilities of the audience.

For instance, you cannot do it in a concert hall, the audience is sitting there like trapped, they cannot run away. But you can do it on radio, you dare. An artist has a work called "Applause," sound of applause for 35 minutes...It says "Someone does something and then you hear the applause." Applause is something always secondary, additional, something subordinate...But it is also a sound and you can present it as something to be listened to. We played this on the radio. People thought it is broken. Now and then we made an announcement: "You are now listening to this." People who don't like it just switch it off. If we are to return to book: if you draw a moustache on a painting in an exhibition you'll be a vandal, they punish you. But you can do it to a book. You can just tear a page, eat some fish on it, make it personal. Say, the pages of books in Susan Sontag's library were published, like which lines she highlighted, it is something really precious. Or they are publishing Walter Benjamin's notes nowadays, the fact that he emphasized something or did some correction...Everybody has its own copy, you can do whatever you want with it. There is this British artist, Michael Landy, he grinded and destroyed everything he owned as a performance. They hired a warehouse, they built a destruction line with grinders. He brought his possessions from his house, processed them systematically, pulverize them and filled them in bags and threw them away. He also destroyed his art collection. And it sparked the most heated debate, like "You have no right to do it." And he said "I bought them, they are my possessions, so why did you sell it." Like, if these were items of collective memory and culture, why did they let me own them? After all, when you take them home, they are just out of circulation.

On Comprehending Art, Internalization and Events...

Eren: In photobooks, we see works that suggest photography is satiated, it is deconstructed, we see objects which disable you to ask questions like "What does the artist express here?" Look, if you don't get it look once more, look again after 10 years or if you don't get it, then it's not your book.

Cem: Art was something we relate to through our emotions, but it gradually began to relate to mind, knowledge. It became something that has to be comprehended, rather than felt. Maybe, now there is a return to that notion. It might be because digital culture is very deterministic or in some period, we saw artists acting as statisticians, anthropologists which had this alienating effect, maybe this idea expired. And now, because photography has become common to all, something which everybody can do, artists have started writing poetry through it. We relate to emotions, there is nothing to be comprehended.

Eren: During the book presentations, the most used word was "internal." There was this practice in Torna: They accept new books, there is a timetable, you make a reservation through it, and you just take off your shoes and spend an hour with that book.

Batur: It is sad that one needs a planned event to be alone with a book.

Cem: I don't quite get what you find sad here.

Batur: We are living in a time in which we plan our own events and usually, just like conversations to explain the work, planning some time period which is not spared between the reader and his/her book through some event, that reminds me of conveying what is not conveyed in a work through a conversation. As an artist, is what I have to do to re-arrange the indispensable relation between the readers and people through a scheduled event or to try to overcome what has to be overcome by dealing with this need through the book? Maybe, the people who published those books should lock themselves in that room and ask each other how to overcome this. These questions came up to my mind during these 4 years when I planned and participated in events on sharing art. As for my sadness, it is personal, and those events we are talking about resurrected it.

Cem : And my idea is this: Woody Allen has this insistence to do a movie every year and he persistently does this. There are lots of rubbish stuff, and in between you have some masterpiece. Maybe if he doesn't have this discipline, he might never have a masterpiece. What is the harm in organizing these events? You'd like to eat a delicious dish in every meal but sometimes you just get disappointed.

Like I said, if you relate to art with reason, as a listener you say nothing cos you are afraid to say something stupid. Whereas, there is nothing as a stupid feeling. It comes naturally and you show it, you cry or laugh...And noone can call you vulgar for it.

Eren: Is it possible to design that space, that room as if it's not an event? There is a carpet workshop for instance, you can lay a table on the floor using the remaining pieces, a place where you just enter taking your shoes off.

On Exhibitions, Looking, Eren's Uncle and Batur's Mother...

Cem: The way you look at a photograph also changes. If you are in a gallery you have to be decent, you can be a vandal with the book or you can pick your nose. And how do you look at a photograph - if there are others around? If it has a tag you have to read it, you move away, you get closer, everybody sees you and there is a pattern as to how you should look at those photographs, so you have to follow it. You have to spend time there as if it really interests you.

Eren:  If there is someone with you, you have to say what it tells. We had an exhibition in REM Art, and my uncle who is a civil engineer came as well. As soon as he stepped inside, he said "Come on, explain it!" I told him we could just talk about it after the opening. After a while, I saw him studying the architecture. And when he said "Eren, I am a civil engineer, so help me, I cannot understand," I said "No way, you can understand something, or you understand you just can't, then we fail." And he said "But as I see, your work occupies the most space, and this is something," he get carried away and pat me on the back.  

Batur: I felt my work communicated in the real sense for the first time with my mother in my last exhibition in Torun. She said at home just woke up a bit delirious: "Batur, your exhibition was really disturbing and I feel you are mentally depressed. I am worried about you."

Şener: In your last exhibition, there was a photo of your mother. I met her in the opening and I heard she was saying "Look, that's my photo" to her friends and taking pictures in front of it.

Batur: People have that kind of approach as well. My grandma was angry saying "why no picture of me!" There is also my aunt, it was the one where she was at the backseat of the car.

Eren S. : When you try to form an interaction in an exhibition, there is an audience sympathizing with your works, and there is also other viewers mocking around. And those other viewers seem like they are watching some theater you set up. Simply, let's say you place a button, someone comes and pushes it, and when the others see a "viewer," a "button," "someone pushing the button," the one who is directly experiencing it see something different. But in a way, s/he becomes part of that theater and when s/he can't figure it out it looks funny. S/he hesitates to press or touch the button, there is this possibility of humiliation in the face of an art work. It is art I mean! But you don't have it in a book, you are in your bed and you can interact with it however you want.

Cem: You can't just find yourself alone with a book, you choose and buy it. Therefore, there is no hesitation, but in an exhibition it's not the same.

On Depressions...

Unknown voice: Where will your terrific optimism go, Cem? When you talk you say anything goes to everything, then you just go home and sit. What then?

Cem: So I have tried being pessimistic...

Unknown voice: Let's just get rid of this conversation routine, as within so without! I am depressed I am going home, "anything you say" is a no go bro!

Cem: Hey now, depression is something and this is another thing; work is something, this is another...