On “Reason Purpose” with Korhan Karaoysal

Korhan Karaoysal
Şener Soysal
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İpek Çınar
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A conversation with documentary photographer Korhan Karaoysal on his FUAM awarded book "Reason Purpose" and his art practice in general.

Şener: How did you begin your project, can you tell us about the process?

Korhan: As a documentary photographer, I have always thought about what to work on. I was thinking of the frames of my early works as something that could be embedded in the works themselves. What I have in mind was the question: Why people come together? What is the motivation or feeling that impels people to come together and express themselves with this unusual desire? In fact, this is something very basic. Then I got the impression that the drive to follow someone or come together with others in an enthusiastic way to express oneself stems from very different ideologies, conceptions or even specific situations. That's how I began working on the subject. Although political meetings stand out among the subjects, there are completely different things as well. There are events organized by municipalities: such as the event "We send disabled youth to military service" by Beylikduzu Municipality or commemoration for Ali Fuat Cebesoy organized in Geyve, the county of Sakarya. There are also ceremonies attended by a handful of people or veterans. I guess the basic drive for me was to take photographs of gatherings that have demonstrative or representational potential where people are enthusiastic about expressing their ideas. Because taking photographs in a place where people are enthusiastic make things easier as a documentary photographer, and it enables people whom I photograph right under their very nose to express themselves. In other words, the people there are showing off in a way. After all, they are staging a demonstration, staging some spectacle. So, in all the demonstrations I assume that being photographed won't be any problem for them.

Şener: I have never thought of that. I suppose you didn't get any reactions during photographing.

Korhan: No, I didn't. After all, everybody is displaying something with cries and all: pennants, colors, flags, noises, music.

Şener: You created the book "Reason Purpose" during Booklab. I guess you weren't planning to make a book out of those photographs before.

Korhan: Actually, I had a series in which I was photographing my family, called "Missing Insight" and I wanted to collect it into book. I always thought that it would be my first book. But I brought the other series to the Booklab I was recently working on, and we decided to work on it. And I am glad we did; it was a series I was more preoccupied with it in terms of its method and style.

Since I had been taking those photos for a long time – the oldest dates back to 2006 – I didn't know where the work would go. But the subject was always in my mind in conceptual, contextual terms. I continually went to take photos. I prepared a calendar for daily and weekly occasions, and organized events. Whenever I found time I kept track, like "We have this occasion next week. Shall I go to this or that one?" Since it extended for a long period I used different cameras. For a while I used black-and-white film. That's why there are so many different photographs with different styles. And I couldn't gather them in an exhibition format or a standard book format, because of their different formats. Even on the website, I was not satisfied with the result. But the design Okay created, suited very well with the book.

When Okay suggested this design, I thought of David Allen Harvey's book on Rio. He also assembles the photographs like a puzzle by cutting them into halves. So, I thought it was relevant as something that had been done and worked on before, and we agreed on that. Normally, I am very conservative about the framing the photographs. So, I had to frame the photos to some extent, but at the same time you are cutting the photos into halves. Moreover, you also gather different photos because after all you are also designing the book. That was something I might hesitate to do, but I guess when you are working with a good designer it is also important to trust him. We were friends with Okay, we went to the same university. So, I have always trusted him and liked his designs. In the end, I quitted questioning and we carried on with the work.

Şener: The photographs in the book don't have any chronological order, right?

Korhan: The order of the book is by the content of the photographs. But there is no beginning and end. Since the book doesn't have a fixed cover, we wanted to create images that are cyclical and overlapping each other. In fact, because the pages are independent from each other, you can change the order or remove the photos you don't like and keep it as you like.

Şener: Still, there is a contrast you created between the photographs that coincide together. Korhan: Yes, sure. There is rather a diague between the photographs. The photographs on the left and right communicate in contextual terms or the two engage in a dialogue. When you turn the page, you have the other two parts of the same photos. But since you have photos both on the front and the back page, you don't have a complete control on the book. So, you decide on something at some point, and then the photos come together.

Şener: When you applied for the FUAM competition, was the book completed?

Korhan: I only made 3 model editions in BookLab. Then I printed 15 copies to send them to different competitions like FUAM. The cover was more orderly, the paper was of better quality. I also sent it to the competition in Kassel, and the book was shortlisted. The prize you got in FUAM was to have your book printed, and when I won 350 copies were printed.

Şener: So, how did you come up with the title "Reason – Purpose"?

Korhan: I published the series on internet with the title "Ceremonies, Celebrations, Meetings" before. I always like to add the lexical meaning of the word as a statement to the work itself. Here, the words "reason" and "purpose" was originally in English. The Turkish equivalents of these words don't really give the intended meaning, but when you think of them in English as "reason" and "purpose", they have the word "motivation" ingrained in common. Purpose is where motivation takes you to; and reason is where your motivation originates from. Also, the word "reason" is synonymous with notions that are important for me, such as logic, rationale, mind, and positivism. As for "purpose", it is rather result-oriented. You also have the conflict between these two positions in the book. In other words, the order of our education system which is closer to the west, and the chaotic and disorganized way closer to the east which you can associate with religion as well. So "Reason Purpose" is a chosen title, but I also feel it doesn't work like that for many, and doesn't give the intended impression.

Şener: Still the title makes the viewer question the content, makes them curious. With the sub-heading "Meetings, Celebrations, Ceremonies" it both gives information, and doesn't condition you directly.

Korhan: Yes, so it is possible to establish different connections that are not there prima facie. That's also why there are many texts in the book. I like the book to be open to various connections and associations which are invisible to me. You can read it in political terms, as well as in national historical terms; some photographs may be better with respect to the different political positions of people, some may be worse. You can establish different connections. That's something I enjoy. The last viewer is the one to complete and finish the work. Not forming a framework extensively enables the completion, but it is also crucial to form some kind of a framework and adapt the parts into it.

On His Art Practice

İpek: Do you settle on a specific format, a specific approach when you begin a project? Or does it go intuitively?

Korhan: That's something I always think of. When I settle on some concept or some subject, the kind of approach I should take is crucial for me as a photographer. That's the reason why my works are distinct from each other, I am aware of that fact. But they also have some kind of integrity in terms of their approach. After all, I am a documentary photographer. The technology of photography works like a transcription for me. You can find it in all my works. The format can change, I may use tripod, I may work slower, but I never make extreme interventions. To me, the definition of photography is conservative and limited. You have to have a camera, and you have to have a subject before the camera where the light is reflected on. That's what I call photography.

Şener: I guess when you think in basic terms, that's what it is.

Korhan: Other photographers may not agree with that. I also ascribe too much meaning to the act of photographing. Say, I never use archival photographs. I only used an archival photograph once, along with the recent photos I took in a workshop in Greece. I am not against it, but what I find important is the meaning it gives to the work as a whole, to share that moment within the context of the work itself, the feeling it gives, to share that moment. I attach importance on photography as a performative process. The process of taking photographs is as crucial and significant as showing the end product.

İpek: One can say your works don't resemble each other in visual terms. For example, "Facade" is closer to the deadpan approach, but "Reason Purpose" is closer to street photography.

Korhan: The book "Reason Purpose" is close to street photography both in terms of its aesthetic and the attitude of the photographer. Because it is really open to different possilibities. It is open to instantaneous moods or little things that carry potential meanings. But on the other hand, it also has a conceptual framework, and you also have a spatial and temporal framework formed by the incidents/occasions.

I am aware of the variations between my works all along. When you work with a single approach and style, it is easier for people to comprehend your works; they associate them with the previous ones. But I never wanted to do that. It is like a game to me, everytime I want to try something new. I believe that an approach specific to the subject with a different perception will have a much better influence on the end product. But as I said, my works also share a common ground. I think if I combine my family photographs and the photographs of social occasions in contextual terms, they work together. Because one presents a portrait of a middle class family living in Istanbul with respect to its socio-economic status, and the other offers a visual representation of the same society in a much more apparent and expressive way. Both work for me in contextual terms. In this sense, I think my works are coherent contextually and in terms of my approach as a documentary photographer. They only differ in aesthetic and formal terms. Moreover, since I am not working for an agency or a newspaper as a documentary photographer, and since I don't work with a gallery as an artist, I don't have to rush when I am working. My only cause is to note some stuff down in the stream of time, to carry on doing this. So, in this sense I feel free.

İpek: Since you don't work with any gallery or anywhere, and you don't have any deadlines, we can only see you when you participate in some workshop or a project.

Korhan: Unfortunately, it is hard to find institutions like that in Turkey. We really need small and large scale institutions, and they don't have to be small galleries with commercial purposes. They may be organizations such as Booklab, festivals like FUAM or magazines like Orta Format. Anyone can practice art, but I think what we really need is venues and establishments which open a space for these works, which enable communications between these people. Rather than gathering together solely as photograhers and talking about our works, we need places to meet sociologists for example, or painters… BookLab provides you with this opportunity; you get together with designers and editors, and I think it provides you with a much more creative and useful process. And I become visible only by taking part in these kinds of events. That's sufficient for me, I am glad that my works are visible once or twice a year. After all, I am not someone who creates rapidly and enormously. I don't have any problem with galleries, and I don't want to be misunderstood. I took part in a group exhibition in Daire Gallery; I also had a solo exhibition in Operation Room. But selling is completely different; it has never been something I was after.

Şener: I also think that's something completely different. Like doing commercial photography, not everyone would like to do it.

Korhan: I prefer doing commercial photography to make money. I try to carry on doing both. For now, I am ok with it. I also like commercial photography, the technique I use in it always render my own technique intense; so I do it willingly.