Espas Publishing

Espas Kitap


While this issue mainly includes independent initiatives, corporate organizations that also take initiatives need to be examined, too. By corporate organizations, we mean the organizations that have the legal personality and sustain themselves by generating an income through the sale of a service or product. The first question is common for all organizations, so we wanted to ask you, too: When we say independent art organizations, one of the main concepts is, of course, "independence". What does independence mean to you? As an art formation, what do you feel like you are dependent on, and what do you think you need to look out? 

Hüseyin Yılmaz: Independence for me is the freedom to do what I want, what makes me happy. Of course, when it comes to freedom, there is no such thing as free lunch. But I am not expectant too much in economic terms. I feel free and happy to do what I enjoy. 

Engels states that freedom means understanding the imperatives. You are free if you can grasp and feel them. In this sense, I do not feel obliged to anything. There are books that I think this country, this society needs. I believe publishing them can contribute to the development of photography culture. I am already happy when I publish those books. I feel that the seeds we sow sprout. I can also see the inspirations of them on some people. Of course, economic difficulties can sometimes make us despair and overwhelm, but this is the reality of the country. We do not have a solution to get rid of these difficulties, but this is a state of resistance. 


While working on this issue, we often had a chance to think about the titles such as initiative, collective, and corporate structure. Independent initiative is generally perceived as a structure where artists come together. Initiatives taken by a single person, publications, and associations are excluded from this definition. A corporate institution can be easily labelled as a business enterprise. You probably encounter similar perceptions. How do you define yourself, where do you position yourself?

There is such a fact: All of the small publishers like us do public service. They play Don Quixote. Because if you do not have over 100 publications, it is impossible to earn money. We have around thirty books, of which 16-17 are related to photography theory. It is not possible to carry on this business with these thirty books. 

Sometimes people realize our books on the bookstores. They draw attention as we carefully work on their design. People think like "If they publish books like this, they should have a budget." or "They should come from a wealthy family." however, the truth is not so. There are high taxes; the paper and royalty have 18% tax. Half of the income of a book we sell goes to the distributor. You have to make all payments from translator to royalty in advance, and then you start to wait for earning from the distributor. It takes six months, one year, sometimes two years… Then you pay 20% of the income to the government. So it is certainly not rational economically. Only if you are a big publishing house, you can tolerate it. Therefore, it would be unfair to consider us as a big commercial institution in this atmosphere.

Frankly, I try to make my living by working jobs other than publishing and maintain the publishing house with that income. It would be impossible in any other way. Sometimes I ask myself: "Hüseyin, you try yo publish these books, and spend so much money on them. But you can read the English versions by yourself, what's your matter?" But the idea of contributing to society is touched to me, and I cannot give up easily. It is a contribution to society, after all. I hope it leaves a trace. 


The general perception that institutionalization requires much hardship and bureaucratic effort cause independent initiatives to avoid being a legal entity. How did you make this decision?

I studied photography at Marmara University. It was my second degree, and I started it at later ages. Since I love reading, I was trying to read whatever I found about photography. However, in a country where photography education has been given for thirty years, there was no history of photography book. There were only 8-10 classic books that we all know. We thought with my friend Hürü Öztürk, an academician at Marmara University, that there is such a need for photography books. We started with the dream of establishing a publishing house and a bookstore to meet this need. But the facts of life have shown us that this is not the case. 

Unfortunately, the bookstore had to close, and we could not run it. We could not sell any books after the Gezi Movement, and it ruined us. Then we tried to run the publishing house. That was also disrupted due to the economic crises. Now I try to publish books when I have a budget. Here, this is also critical: Unfortunately, the actors in the photography environment do not collaborate, and the solidarity is not strong. A wide range of actors from camera sellers to those personally interested… of course, the perception of photography varies. People pay 10-20 thousand TL for a camera, but find the book prices very expensive. Because showing off is more significant. 

There was an active period starting with the Capital Culture of Istanbul era and continue until 2015. Festivals and independent initiatives became to emerge, that had been very good. But that era ended. Or course, this is related to the economy. 


Although it contradicts the previous question, many funds and sponsorships lay down to be a legal entity as a condition. Sometimes this situation affects the decision of establishing an association/company. What kind of advantages that institutionalization provides you or what kind of disadvantages it causes you? 

Espas is a corporate structure, but I am on my own in practice. I believe in anarchism. In this perspective, this contradicts to my ideologies. But as long as we do not destroy this system, we have to be subject to this.  

The contribution may be that the state may support our books by purchasing more. However, even if we apply for this support, they very rarely buy from our books. If they do, they do not buy more than a hundred and buy with a 45% discount from the Directorate of Libraries. Therefore, the state is more like a partner of our money with taxes. 

There is also a municipalities issue. As I worked in photography festivals, I approach the problem as follows: all of the people working in the cultural sections of the municipalities are the political stuff. They are the supporters of the party which administrate that municipality, and they get their jobs because of their political opinions or their relatives. Although they have good intentions sometimes, they may not have such capacities. They do not go beyond exhibitions on easels. I think the people working there should have a fine arts degree. 


The organizations arise from the individual desires and needs as well as the needs of the art environment. Therefore, the wishes and opinions of individuals become a significant factor in the structure of an organization. How much did your organization depend on the individuals part in and how did you balance between these two?

Sometimes I think that if I become unable to take care of these duties because of my age, what would happen? After all, the Espas exists because of my afford. There were YGS before us which published some books, but they could not maintain. It seems like we are more stubborn and resistant. I will try to do this job as much as I can. I hope that we will hand it on to younger friends in the future. 


Sustainability is not only related to economic factors but also the organizational model. How many people does your team consist of, and how are the division of labour and job definitions? 

I do all these processes on my own. I wish I could employ some more friends and share those workloads, but as I said, the publishing house does not even have a budget to sustain me. In fact, I work at the home office. 


What are the effects of independent organizations in the current economic and social conditions of Turkey?

I think they are very crucial. Because there is a perception in Turkey as follows: Only if your works are exhibited in an important gallery or museum, you are considered as a mature artist. There are various classes, and if you become a member of those classes, your works are exhibited. It does not matter if they are good enough. For this reason, the organizations outside of this system, the underground ones, and the artists here are more important to me. After a while, they already prove themselves. 


We are curious about your opinion on the future of independent initiatives. What do you think about this subject, and do you have any concerns? 

Worries about being able to survive and sustain have become the main condition. The difficulties of daily life always give us this feeling. But it is necessary to fail, and fail again, and try again. As Samuel Beckett's words… We cannot be tired of failures. Even though life imposes something... It is crucial to be independent, have independent artists. Otherwise, they try to dictate the things you will do. We have to renounce the merchant-artist thing, and what you did not independently produce is not art. It makes sense if life and art intersect. Who cares the millions of dollars in the art market!