On Blackout with Coşkun Aşar

Coşkun Aşar
Şener Soysal



Şener: First of all, can you tell us about your field of interests and motivation?

Coşkun: I can say that I have interests in certain subjects which are similar to each other. I guess these come from my educational background. I studied in the Cinema Department, but it was under The Communication Faculty and I had the opportunity to get a journalism formation there. Photography was a medium that I was interested in for cinema; however, the solitude and loneliness of the photography attracted me. And after I started to be interested in, I took it seriously and continued. Of course, journalism formation and photojournalism education give me the ability to look at things more critically and to wonder.

The book I had been working on for a long time actually involved little stories talking with each other, touching each other turned out a story shaped through me. It emerged through the topics which deal with, lives in and happened on the dark side of İstanbul. There are almost four layers in the Blackout. These layers are different stories that I was working on as different stories and subjects from time to time where I worked and lived. When I looked back in time, bringing them together is telling a story of mine.


Ş: Your projects on your website are the layers you are talking about, right?

C: Exactly. The subjects in Blackout were long-term projects. When we look back at the moment, a city that disappears very fast and the disappearing parts of that city are also in this book. These are the things which happened very suddenly; there are a high-speed transformation and gentrification. This obviously reveals the importance of certain things. After realizing this value, I cannot approach it without worrying about it. I cannot say to myself "Just do it, then abandon and continue". I think I should give the time that the story deserves. Therefore, the reveal of these layers before the publication of the book is important.

But, it is also a fact that there is no objectivity anymore. We are all subjective beings and we become a party in some way from our own standpoint. Or, in a way, we look at things from the perspective what we have learned, somehow with our judgments, attitudes, and convictions. That is where our story is. It is all natural that this is the case. The experience that we get there is the essence of the story. Otherwise, we do not discover the world again. These stories have been done hundreds of times and the important thing is that people discover themselves in that story. That was what I had discovered over time and the book was shaped through it. The book was a process of coming together in a natural way. It was the encounter of the subjects in my life, communication of the subjects with each other and sharing of them in a spatiality. That's why there is a very long process of what I bring together, but the appearance of the book as a solid form has happened in two years. I also took part in the design with the designer. It was an instructive and important process for me. Although it is very tiring to last long. Sometimes when everyone says it's all right, your work starts, your subjectivity, and obsession contribute that work.


Ş: On the one hand, two years is a long time. But, on the other hand, it is a short period of time to scan an archive of 17-18 years.

C: You'll publish a book from that time period and there will be 74 photographs in it. You are trying to tell an intense story and the selection process is really difficult. There is the idiom: "Kill Your Darlings". When I was making this book, a pretty intense "murder" has been committed. But actually, this is a story that I have tried to explain in a certain harmony with a language unity, in a non-linear way. Because life is parallel. From where we stand it seems linear to us. But when we look at the outside, there is another life alongside ours. While I was making this book, I actually tried to capture a linearity that included the stories I lived. And the parallel lives of all those projects I have produced and this created the dramatic structure of the story. The photography can also become open to interpretation and allow its own stories and comments. This is very natural. This project is something like this, open-ended, not referring to anything directly, perhaps the story of a night in 18 years. It's very concentrated.


Ş: Yes, it would not be possible to estimate how long the story lasts in the photographs if there is no information about the period behind the book.

C: Sure. There is only one thing that may seem like a reference in the book: a police car. I don't always like to give information in my photographs, although it is just the opposite of photojournalism, the opposite of 5W1H. But sometimes asking a question is stronger than answering. There is the same story in the photojournalism; a lot of things are possible with truth, lie, and manipulation. Therefore, I think the sincerity of the job is important. What you are trying to tell and how you do this.   


Ş: Sincerity is absolutely very important. Your works have the same sincerity because you have lived in Taksim and your life has already had this direction.

C: Yes, my life is in the cross street. I live there, I reside there; one of my first stories was about street children and I was studying very close to Taksim. I spent my life in Taksim. I was sleeping at the ATMs with them. You witness with your own filter, and it adds originality to the story. You leave your fingerprints. And this is the whole point.




Ş: The fact that the photographs here are not exhibited and turned into a book is more interesting for me as a language of expression. Most probably if it was an exhibition, some photographs would be printed bigger and more impressive which would cause a different meaning. In the book, however, everything is very linear and follow each other, none of them come directly to the front and we see a story on the whole. When I looked at this work, it is an advantage impressed me.

C: We have limits in all of our works. One can get easier and another can be difficult. In traditional perspective, there are problems such as not diving the photographs, the construction of the book and limits to use some techniques in terms of cost. We collaborated with Frederic Lezmi and Okay Karadayılar. It was a very good work, both of them were masters of their domain. It was very important for me to be open to collaboration. I'm not the kind of person who orders his/her work to another person and not interferes it. So, I prefer to collaborate even though this is harder and takes more time. Finally, we had a happy ending. Like a traditional photobook, it was a nuisance to see photographs spreading into two pages, but that was something I thought from the beginning. Because it can also expand to the outside of the book, does not limit itself within a frame. I also don't like the horizontal book format, it gives the sense of an album. So it was good to have it in vertical format but most of my photographs were horizontal. We experienced a lot of problems in the photographs as the focus in the frames were mostly in the middle. But this is a book and these divisions sometimes have the ability to show the picture as two different photographs. The book also has its own language. At some points, there were disturbing results but we took the risk of it. When you lose something, you win something else. We have always considered this. But we have reached a happy ending of 95%. The reactions were also very nice. It was shortlisted in the Self Publish category of PhotoEspana 2018 The Best Photography Book of the Year with ten different books. It is currently exhibited at Biblioteca Nacional de Espana 2. It won the Jury Special Award in The Angry Bat Photobook Award 2018 in Slovenia.       

When I came together with a lot of people from different social categories, I have realized certain commonalities and personal perspectives. The comments of people from there who knows Turkey was like finding a new way at the point of no return. Because our lives are transforming and changing very fast. The handicaps of photography are growing day by day. Today, our lives have begun to be paranoid. When I started photography the camera was a sympathetic instrument, now it is an antipathetic device. I am not a person who takes pictures on the street and I really would like to live in a place that I'm curious about, I am growing up there by learning. That's why I feel lucky. Photography is a learning method for me. It is a sense like touching or a smell. Because I continue with curiosity. The depth of the thing you tell, the intensity of the emotion, the originality in itself bring a different dimension to beauty. This is also the instructive part of working for a long time, being inside, living inside. At first, you need to be full. I feel in the same direction when the water you put in a glass is full. This book is an overflow. From my point of view, I must say; the issued I work on must be interesting for me. This is something different than going to the street and taking pictures. What is attractive to us is something we don't know, we wonder, and even a little bit afraid of. The attractiveness of fear and forbidden is something else. It's like a breaking point and pushes the fear.


Ş: I guess because of the things that you said, this book or the stories you've produced does not try to dictate, remark or emphasize what the society knows and ignores. It's just that and you have built an archive through it. That's why the word "overflow" is nice. There is a residue which you have shared with people. But you are not saying "Look, they are here."

C: I have always wanted to keep a diary and after the photography, I thought I could do it a little. Maybe my interest came from there. I think I would write if I had not taken photographs. If I am having this much, if I am a witness, I should record it somehow. Because the memory forgets these things. The photography is very concentrated. A contact sheet shows how you approach something, how is your mood, where you are, whom you are with, where you go, how you scared and how you are approaching.


Ş: A nice recall mechanism.  

C: Every photograph is in a zip and you can move from there to before because your memory creates a starting point.


Ş: I am using Instagram this way. It doesn't matter if someone takes an interaction from something I've shot and shared, but what I see when I go back affects me. The labeling provides me to see what I did three years ago.

C: Think about it, the last picture you took is carrying the whole process of what you have done. This allows the memory to be stored in a very compressed form, you can solve it from there. These analyzes, as well as returning to realistic memories, may also be a means for others to solve something from their past. If it is compressed well, it allows different readings.   


Ş: Why did you name it "Blackout"?

C: It has two different meanings. First of all, it is a passive form of defense. It is a form of defense by turning out the lights and it protects people from the enemy especially during the war times. Blackout creates an isolation in this sense between the interior light and exterior darkness. The second is about passing out and having another dimension of consciousness. It is about failing of remembering, where you are at that fail of remembering a moment. This is a part which is related to me. And this is my blackout.

Blackout actually has a spatial place. But this is a part of a town, as a place in Calvino's Invisible Cities. There are residents. It is actually a global thing. The life inside does not appear from the outside. They don't want to be seen on the one hand. But on the other hand, it really creates a freedom by a desire to be invisible. For example, people who know my work closely can sort these layers individually. But for all those who get out of this perspective and look at the book as a whole, the individual identities and the social communities to which they belong do not matter. Because that is what life is like, we are the ones who sort people. Sometimes we have to look at the whole picture. Since I could look at my own works like this, I was able to catch a rhythm and I created this story not because of the identity of people in the pictures, but because of their relationships with each other.

By the way, I've had unexpected stories, too. I first shared this book as 12 dummy. I made them with my own fair hands from a small one to a big one by gluing each one differently. I made one of the first dummies while drinking coffee for nine hours. I've traveled with it for 3.5 months. It is a journey from Buenos Aires to Mexico. And that was a different kind of journey that I am used to be. During that trip, I have shared the book with people not necessarily related to photography. I experienced people's reactions in a pure way.   

You leave a mark behind. People looked at this book, read and saw; I think it's really important that you get something personal, something that's really important. That is why I do not aim to reach sensational things and a bunch of audiences. Immediate reactions, the instantaneous rise in life did not attract me. I could do it, I could publish these things in the right place at the right time. As a person who adopted the concept of journalism and has an education in this direction; if you publish at the right time, in the right place and through the right way and if present it in a speculative way, you can get a very popular feedback. I prefer to not be interested in them and turn a deaf ear to them. I care myself in a good way. That is why I had a schizophrenic life. Between survival and production. That is why we have a life which gets harder. We can find different solutions in terms of production. I could have released a book about 10-15 years ago, but I have no regrets. I may have three books in my life, but I should love all of them. I should have no regrets.


Ş: As I understand that, you are already separating things that provide your livelihood and your production. It makes an advantage because the art markets are definitely not functioning properly.

C: It doesn't matter. Whether you notice or not, whether you volunteer this or not; you notice what's going to be sold. I decided not to work with a gallery like this. In the first place, I didn't have a gallery either. I have a minimal life, I don't have much, but I don't need much. I have almost everything I need. Of course, there are deficiencies, but if you learn to live with the less, you had peace of mind. If your production is slow but a satisfying one, I think there is no problem. I made this book by taking out a loan, by myself. Somehow I published it. You can. There have been a lot of different publishers who wanted to sponsor this book. But I skipped a lot of things. But think about it, you are making a 20-year work and you can dominate the whole process with a small amount of production cost. I was opposed to putting even a tiny logo on the back of the book and I didn't. Because there is such a great effort on that book which cannot be paid. This book can afford its cost after for a while, but it's important to leave a good book behind. I didn't want to put a logo on the back, even if there is no interfering at all. There could have been a publisher. I had some options about publishers, but in the first books, they were looking at it commercially, too. If you work with a great publisher to promote well, you can take that risk. But I didn't want to give someone to book's all rights, take a few books, and give the production costs. I am really happy with what I have done right now. As I said, it doesn't matter how I earn my livelihood, but I want neither an intervene nor a supply of anybody. I want to master my work.  



Ş: You lived in Taksim for a long time and the projects that created this book emerged. Now you have moved from Taksim to Beykoz and there are also travels. Is there anything in your mind about the next production practice? About book or material? I also wonder if that's transforming or not.

C: Of course. Along with the paths you've walked through, these are transforming. I have always traveled in certain periods of my life. On some trips I only took notes, sometimes I just experience it. When you are behind the camera for the first time you go to a place, you may be interested in the first impressions, but I didn't like recording them in the camera sometimes. Firstly I should bond with that life and get experience and practice there. You can sometimes miss witnessing when you focus on the camera too much. Sometimes I can't take photographs, I need to get into it. When you see a place for the first time, you take notes, but these are just like touching. You should go there several times. You should find a side that is attractive to you. For instance, if I have a travel plan, I focus on the common things which can be shown as a single place or combine them in a sense, even if the pictures are taken in different places. Things you can take everywhere. I am having these kinds of transformations.


Ş: You will be on the road, but again, timeless and spaceless.

C: Yes, a little bit like that. I am also working on the things that I can take anywhere. There is no need to go to Zimbabwe in order to take a photo, as it is related to stories, questions, problems, obsessions which are already in your mind. Or when you go to Zimbabwe, you can find something about yourself. If I go to Cuba or India, most probably I wouldn't take pictures. Of course, I say this in a general sense. There are lots of photographs taken there. If something doesn't attract me seriously (and the attractiveness is not about color or form); what I'm obsessed with is something I wonder about different cultures, something about our divergences. It is about a humanitarian point. It is a situation where space is not about the place itself. So, now I can concentrate on certain things in certain places. But I can see something in my mind and I can produce something there and bring them together. It is a little bit open-ended. I can be anywhere, I can be everywhere. And sometimes I can be too shy as well as I can dig deeper. This is a humanitarian process, what I am going to see and encounter…