Open letter to Görkem Ergün

İpek Çınar
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Dear Görkem,

It's been a looooong time since we see each other. The last time we met was at the end of December 2015 in beloved Gözde Türkkan's exhibition. I hope you are fine, and in good spirits.  

I don't know where to start so much so that I can only say with the help of Hikmet Benol: "Only if you wrote a letter to me, and I wrote you back". Although it is unclear where the path I take will take me to or what it will bring upon, I need this exploration and comprehension process personally. I hope the words will become clearer as I write, and know that my addressee is you, for recently my days/nights pass with questioning the reality of photography. The cliché between photography and reality as you also have mentioned in your interview, the photograph's state of seeming "as if it is reality" both confuses and amuses me. I hope maybe we can nourish each other on the subject. At least, I get nourished by you and your works.

If I am to borrow the description by sweet Orhan Cem Çetin, photography is the proof that "something, once, has looked exactly like this from a specific point, for a specific period of time". This description appears valid at first, however I involuntarily think of propaganda images where someone is wiped out from the photograph when s/he is at odds with one who was once an ally:

The programs and manipulations that reconstruct the reality of photography is not included in this definition. I am sure master Cem is also aware of this deficit (maybe he speaks up, eh?), but in a period in which even the reality of a particular photograph is controversial, talking about the reality of some photograph series is like a futile attempt of a nobleman of La Mancha, isn't it?

If the first aspect of the discussion on the reality of photography is the change in reality, the second is to create one's own reality. A striking example which comes to mind is a collective project in 2008 by a big artist group. Within the scope of the project, more than 80.000 copies of New York Times are distributed in various states of America in November 12th, 2008. The newspaper includes a 14-page special issue on the best possible scenarios for the next 9 months, and target American people who are very enthusiastic about the future after Obama was elected president in the 2008 elections. The artists who created the newspaper prefer telling what they would like rather than what they don't have, and the subhead of the paper was determined as "IRAQ WAR IS OVER". The aim of the project is to make the readers believe what they wish for the country to be true even if it is for 15 seconds. Just to remind peace instead of the ongoing crisis for the last 7 years for 15 seconds.


And Görkem, a something awesome happened during the project. People (albeit for 15 minutes) believed the news to be true. THEY BELIEVED! So, who can say that the system we are living in and believe to be everlasting isn't just an illusion? A picture of  persuasion that an experience if not history "once, has looked exactly like this from a specific point, for a specific period of time" from a completely different corner.


Beautiful Görkem,

Considering the fact that you also began photography with the dream of "documentary photography", but couldn't find what you were looking for within this discipline, excuse me for my stream of consciousness I pursued which was based upon the notions of document/documentary, real/reality thus far. But the questions of to what extent the outcome is your reality or collected/made/produced become extremely apparent within the context of your works. Naturally, what encouraged me to write this letter is the appeal of this state of limbo in your works.

If this is an open letter, I would like to introduce you a bit to the curious readers. You joined the photography club when you are studying communication in Anadolu University, and improve yourself by taking elective photography courses. After you graduated, you served as an assistant to Alp Sime for a while. You were more inclined to documentary photography back then, but it turns out that reality wasn't that intriguing for you. Moreover, you couldn't figure out the issue of ethics.

"Children and their Dolls" which was included in Siemens Sanat Borders and Orbits in 2012, and "Raw" which was exhibited in Poligon Gallery in 2013 must be the works your quest became apparent. Following these works, "Threshold" can be considered as an intensification of this quest. When we look especially at your first two works solely in formal terms, they both depart from what we may call simple, primitive ideas. In "Children and their Dolls", you embedded the dolls you sewed onto the photographs you found either from the internet or second-hand bookshops in Photoshop; and in "Raw" transformed the photographs of those who were executed within a long period of 100 years, by erasing the ropes in Photoshop, and reproduced them as if they were portraits taken in a studio. The fact that these photographs are found images rather than photographs you take; adding the dolls you have sewed to images in "Children and their Dolls"; and that you have buried the photographs you reproduced in "Raw" in an effort to restore the ritual of burying the dead for the 2nd time, also incorporate a performative approach to the photographs. I am actually curious about the question of "Why" in these works which I can only comprehend by thinking "How" or the acrid sense of their secretive nature.


In the series "Children and their Dolls", the smiles on the children's faces oblivious to what they carry in their hands, incorporates a transitory and edgy sense to the situation. The fact that an object associated with playhouse and play gives this edgy feel, and the effect of this on children who grew up within a period of 150 years, reminds me of the first manuscripts of today's fairytales which were written in the Middle Ages to protect/scare children against the evils of life. It is as if Cindrella is facing human traffickers; and Rapunzel cries out Christian prayers from the tower she was locked up. Like experiencing what is scary transforms into something relieving within time, "Children and their Dolls" offends the psychology by transforming an image with all the good symbolic codes into an object of fear. The doll travels within a period of 150 years…

"Raw" which I find very close to "Children and their Dolls" in its implication if not idea, evokes the second definition of Barthes' punctum with respect to violence: "The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: This will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is at stake." As the work reminds a viewer who knows that you are alive and you are a young artist, looking at a portrait of someone who may be alive at first, recognizing that one is looking at someone who was dead at the time the portrait was taken, gives a sense of journey into time in reverse (not in linear terms, but in terms of its reflection). I guess, I liked the point I arrived at the end of the journey, as well as the association between these two works: both works astonish us by confronting us with an unexpected reflection of history which is linear and with which we are acquainted. Just like the equal sense of familiarity and unfamiliarity we have when we see the reflection of a writing on the mirror for the first time, and the fact that what astonishes us is the simultaneous experience of the two feelings. We are confronted both with the degeneration and re-imagination of what is real. And the appearance of something which "has looked exactly like this from a specific point, for a specific period of time" is entirely reconstructed.



Following these two, "Threshold" is true to its name. To me, it is the work which conveys the viewer feelings that you cannot escape like fear and that exhausts you silently as you said about your project entirely; and moreover it is the work which one feels the lapse of the threshold of reality in photography into your own reality at its most intense. "Threshold" by definition, is like a line that should cross two different points; it is like a double-tipped arrow symbolically; it both pierces you and the viewer. On the other hand, the word "line" doesn't become it, for it is obvious that the procedure was carried out with analog methods rather than digital methods. The intimacy granted by these analog methods, the darkroom, and printing manually renders the work imperfect. The fact that the work was created manually, and so the small defects or unexpected results caused by some instantaneous moods relocate the work to a unique point. And this attributes a second conception to the word threshold.

The accumulation of stories in time rather than considering them individually, makes one curious about the next step above all else. For when I consider your works collectively, I feel that they have this eclectic structure like a journal, and the same affliction is handled recurrently by trying novel conceptions, and intermingling novel experiences that were gained during the process, so that the affliction is constant; rather than independent stories that are put aside.  What I hope the most is to hear that affliction in your own words. It is an affliction which I can only approach, but never touch in its entirety.