Questions/Problems about a Study on Şahin Kaygun

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A study is always expected to reach a conclusion as regards to its problem. Otherwise, it is considered as a disappointment. However, study process and the route that is taken might also bring completely different experiences and results in their wake. Sometimes, one can even discover utterly different questions on the reasons for not finding clear solutions and questions about the route that is taken.

This essay is an exploration on Şahin Kaygun who we follow enthusiastically and curiously, and who keeps widening our horizons in our quest in photography; an exploration enabling us to ask new questions about our art world.

On Available Texts…

We probably knew from the beginning that we would not get clear results in our study process. After all, there are only 2 books on Şahin Kaygun's works and in these books; it is hard to find an approach pertaining to an analysis and criticism of his works. What we can find from these texts however, is that Kaygun was a beloved person in his period. Almost all of the people emphasize his personal characteristics.

Apart from that, some of the statements stand out between the lines amongst others. Particularly, one is a quotation from Şahin Kaygun: "It is not the photographs that describe me explicitly. I want the worlds I created to appear in my photographs. If a figure or an object is to appear in my photograph, they should be anywhere I want, any color and form I want. Rather than detecting or reflecting something interesting, I feel drawn to describe something I have in mind via photography."

The other one is a quotation from Ara Güler on Kaygun: "What you do is art by using photographic techniques." It is known that in media and popular culture, these two photographers were constantly compared and contrasted back then. It is of importance to make someone whose opinions are valued publicly state something of the kind.

On the Questions "Why"...

The process, in which we pulled off with a few fruitful results, inspired us to ask different questions. Instead of complaining of reaching very little information on Kaygun, it is better to question the reasons why this is the fact.

Isn't it strange that the analysis on Kaygun's works does not include criticisms on his style and narration? There were readings on his photographs within the art environment, but texts or records on these readings are not available. Discussions were done in publications in his period, however they were stuck in nominalistic arguments (and even to the point of marginalizing themselves) like "taking photographs or doing photography" which have lost its relevance thanks to Kaygun. We think that is the case because Kaygun was an avantgarde with respect to the period he was living in. Furthermore, the reluctance to appreciate his works within the art environment might result in an effort to fit him in certain descriptions. It could also be argued that the fact that there is no records of meetings and readings or that no sufficient writings about these discussions in the period, might also lead to well-meaning and accomplished studies reaching only a limited audience. If these contents were written, maybe Kaygun would be much more appreciated today. As a matter of fact, we are still trying to understand his works though years passed. Whether the interest in Kaygun within the contemporary art world in Turkey would precipitate and enable our effort of understanding his works; or would it increase their material value within gallery/collector relationship, we will see in time.

Another issue about Şahin Kaygun, is that it is not known where his works and in what condition they are. Who owns his works as a collector? Are they preserved in a good condition? Are there any inventory records or digital copies? Is it possible for us to reach copies of all of his works? Actually, the answers to those questions, as far as we heard from those inquiring the issue, are not very encouraging. For one thing, the negatives of Kaygun's portraits are missing. It is also a known fact that part of his Polaroids are damaged. Even though we appreciate regrettably these damages and losses, it is problematical that whereabouts of his works was not traced. (We wonder if there are any people unaware that they have Kaygun's works.)

On the other hand, it is important to bear in mind that this problem is not limited to Kaygun's works. The insufficiency of artists' archives and inventory records is a significant issue in Turkey. Another problem is the lack of culture of criticism, instead of trying to understand and open discussions about artworks, we are accustomed to classifying and making shallow comments if they are good or bad.

Even though what we have covered so far might sound like a complaint, they are some of the problems concerning the art world in Turkey. What we have to see is that although Şahin Kaygun have come to the fore recently, nothing is all lavender and roses.

On his works...

Albeit the clouds are not pink, the skies are a thrilling blue. We have heard of various analysis on Kaygun's works recently, and mounted novel arguments with respect to them. The diversity of the works along with some uncertainties have confused us a little, yet despite all the disorder, we tried to list them as follows:

We can state with contentment that the exhibition Yekhan Pınarlıgil organized on Kaygun's post-1980s works give us a different viewpoint. In the exhibition, Pınarlıgil draws attention to concealed women's faces in Kaygun's photographs. These women without identities compel us to communicate more and reflect on the subject. If we consider Kaygun's photographs with reference to Barthes' Camera Lucida, which was first published in the same period, in terms of his statement that the expression in a photograph is effected by what is excluded as well as what is included (we are not sure if Kaygun read Barthes or not), an essential discussion regarding the problems about the existence of women's identity, the place of women in society, the discrepancy between women's nudity and identity, are brought forward especially in Kaygun's nude works where we find those hidden women's faces.


It is a known fact that Kaygun's drawings and grid technique in his Polaroid photos were in use previously in Europe. His focus on these techniques after he was back from Austria to Turkey in the 70's, manifests that he came across similar works abroad and that he became bolder upon his return. Somehow, we also think that this is an overlooked issue. Maybe this is not to vilify Kaygun, but why should the use of some technique culminate in a vilification? On the contrary, to know from whom the artist got his inspiration would give us a better understanding of his works. It is a simple fact that we did not come to invent the techniques that are in use in the world. Yet, it is possible to form a narrative and internalize using them. And Kaygun was an artist who had accomplished this, internalizing without copying them.


The aesthetic sense in Şahin Kaygun's works is very different from what is practiced in Turkey. Even in his black-and-white photographs, the framing, the balance of blank-full spaces, the objects he highlights, the use of lens are anomalous in his era. (And still there are people who refuse these kinds of style, but Kaygun's contribution to the emergence of artists who disregard the established aesthetic norms is grand.) Kaygun continues his art practice changing the aesthetic continuously, introducing technical novelties.

We can claim that Kaygun's practice is close to an avantgardism predominated by a theoretical sense. He is presenting his works by transforming the contents, saturated colors and styles which conformed the aesthetic of his own period. Naturally, it is what the avantgarde is all about. His works which can be quite ordinary today, were produced 30 years ago.


Kaygun's most known and spoken works are his Polaroids and collages. In addition to this, his artists' portraits are outstanding in the way they are opening a new perspective. These artists' portraits should be seen as a reflection on the period he was living in. These photographs provide evidence as to the essence of the artists apart from their personal artistic practice, and they become an intriguing inventory record. They accomplish this via the inquisitive approach peculiar to portraiture and Kaygun's narrative style.

On the other hand, portraits from foreign artists are a part of the series. As to why this is the case, we can assume that he photographed the artists he got his inspiration from and would like to collaborate, and made a personal inventory.


It is obvious that Kaygun was an artist always in quest and in search for novelties. However, his discoveries which was not included in his works during his quests remain in suspense. It is also not possible to trace his trial and error process, because he was organized, steady in his practice, and he always presented works he felt contented. The people who have the most insight about his practice must be people like Merih Akoğul who had been to his studio. Likewise, some of Akoğul's accounts about Kaygun in an interview proves this fact.


We have to accept that even though we would like this text to reach to some fruition, it is not possible. We just tried to share what we have in mind, our analysis and new questions. We believe that there are many texts that can be written about Kaygun's art practice and works. And it should be. How we can come to a conclusion is open to question, but to open a discussion space is also crucial. We hope to understand Kaygun better and observe the missing/deficient/defective parts of the art environment in Turkey better in the process.


As editors of Orta Format, we are open to all kinds of texts, communions and studies.

Note: You can have a look at Sami Aksoğan's "Şahin Kaygun is Here Once Again" in Lebriz and Merih Akoğul's "Among Us As a Secret Face After 20 Years"

You can also find "Şahin Kaygun - A Complete Life" in SALT and İstanbul Modern libraries.

You can have a look at Yekhan Pınarlıgil's exhibition book in Elipsis Gallery.