The Orphan of Cinema and Literature: Photonovel as Photobook

Aslı Narin
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What I know about photonovel was limited to what I know from my parents. My mother used to tell me about the times how she and her friends read and exchanged photonovels in summers when she was a student, and my father used to tell me off like "so what, are you going to put a makeup and read photonovels at home" when I complain about business life. To me, photonovel is something to pass the time in summers, a fun activity smelling sand and sea. When I read that photonovel was considered in these terms in Ayfer Tunç's book "Bir Maniniz Yoksa Annemler Size Gelecek: 70li Yıllarda Hayatımız(1)" I was a bit relieved and sad at the same time. Though I saw and admired these books which were replaced by romantic TV series today, in secondhand bookshops and flea markets, and started collecting the ones I like the photos of. I did it spontaneously, without ever questioning what I did or what photonovel is to this day. Until I participated in Markus Schaden's - one of the founders of Photobook Museum - photobook workshop, and he asked me to donate my photonovel which I brought with me to The Photobok Museum.

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Istanbul Calling Photonovel Turkish Style, 2016; Photographed by Markus Schaden (source:


As it is well known, photonovel is a medium which is comprised of photos and a storyline, in which the photographs are accompanied by texts. This way of narration, first came to light in 1947 in Italy. Although there are debates as to what the first photonovel is, in general, the series " Nel fondo del cuore-From the Bottom of My Heart" published in the weekly Italian magazine "Il Mio Sogno-My Dream" considered to be the first one.

It can be argued that photonovel, almost born overnight and considered something completely new, is a kind of mixture of different mediums in a creative way. In fact, generally speaking, it can be seen as the continuation of Italian photomontage techniques in popular magazines, cinema and celebrity culture of the 1920s and 30s. In a way, photonovel, under the influence of thematic and narrative aspects of dramatic literature, can be defined as some version of a comic book with photographs (undoubtedly the field which influenced the medium most) and blend of caricature and film-novels. (2)

For many academicians, photonovel seemed as an easily consumable prey, it lacked supporters. Because photonovel was considered mostly as foolish, weak and repetitive medium, there was only one response to that: To avoid it. Even Barthes, when talking about photonovel's cultural and critical status, argues: "moving yet traumatizing stupidity." (3) However, for Jan Beatens when you look closer, photonovel can trigger many influential questions which cannot be posed by photography, cinema or comic strips. (4)

It is obvious that photonovel has an idiosyncratic style. We are all aware that rather than consisting solely of photographs, it consists of photographs formed with a specific sense of aesthetic. These photos are based mostly on the eroticism of the face - both men and women - and the body - mostly women. In fact, I have found a book in Turkish when I was writing this essay. The name of the book written by Bahadır Türk is "Hayali Kahramanlar Hakiki Erkekler Çizgi Roman ve Fotoromanda Erkeklik Temsilleri Üzerine Denemeler." In addition to this, I have to indicate that photonovel as a medium mimics directly the design models of comic strips and caricatures. Photonovel which is different from these two mediums, is based on an opposite format. The design is plainer. And the reason to this, is to retain the aspects of the novel and avert distraction, and also to improve the appealing nature of photography. (4)

In Turkey, photonovels began with movie photonovels. These novels created using the images taken from movie sets and resembling comic strips, were the archetypes of Turkish photonovel. In Italy photonovel also emerged the same way and because the sector succeeded, it formed its own scenarists and performers.

As mentioned in various sources, "Cumartesi Saat Dörtte" is the first original photonovel which was a film adaptation and in which the script was written as a photonovel. Due to the lack of photonovel sources in Turkey, it is argued that "Deniz Çağırıyor" is the first Turkish photonovel in the light of information we get from the internet and the newspaper archives.

The most interesting photonovel in the history of Turkish photonovels, is "Killing" which was originally an Italian photonovel series. In this photonovel series which was published here adapted into Turkish, there was an anti-hero with a skeleton costume and he is killing young and beautiful women. Although most Turkish photonovels are based on a melodrama just like Italian and French versions, "Killing" is different. It became popular in Turkey for the first time it was published, because it was the only fantastic photonovel incorporating elements from thrillers and horror movies. Its first issue was published in Son Newspaper in 1967. Then, the copyright was acquired by Ceylan Publications in the 70s and the series continued to be published as pocket photonovels.(5)



An article about Killing, (source:


Moreover, we also see literature adaptations in photonovels apart from film adaptations. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar's most appreciated novel "A Mind At Peace" was also published as a photonovel. "A Mind At Peace" was published in Tercüman Newspaper in 1973 as a part of the supplement "İnci".(6) It is one of those novels which I find interesting as an adaptation into a photonovel, considering the state of unrest echoed in the novel and that I finished the novel slowly in 6 months. Adapting a novel like "A Mind At Peace" into a photonovel which necessitates a plain, fluid scenario as a service for popular culture and the need to appeal to different social classes, is interesting.




Tercüman Newspaper, 1973; (source:


Photonovel is well-loved in our country, that the characters in some photonovels were identified with their real lives. According to Nebil Özgentürk's column in Sabah Newspaper, due to the advertisement which can be called as viral in a photonovel involving Orhan Gencebay, people thought he was really dead.(7) Or reading about how Hülya Tuğlu, the actress known as the record holder of photonovel, mentions the readers criticize her dressing style in their letters and how she started changing her wardrobe in light of those criticisms, indicates the way Turkish public relates to both celebrities and photonovels.(8) Therefore, many celebrities which you may guess and may not (even Yılmaz Güney) appeared in various photonovels. Photonovels were a different way of becoming a celebrity in Turkey or following and reaching them. According to Agah Özgüç's essay, with the publication of Güneş Newspaper in 1982, the black and white era of photonovels comes to an end and the colored era began. This initiated more celebrities to partake in this marathon. Celebrities like Sezen Aksu, İbrahım Tatlıses, Cüneyt Arkın, Adile Naşit and others starts appearing in this popular medium.




Kadir İnanır as leading man in a photonovel, (source:



From "Asılacak Adam" (source:



From "Küheylan"; (source:


From "Çalıkuşu"; (source:


After I start looking at photonovels from a different aspect and as some kind of photobook, I began reading "Geride Kalan Günler" from Cep Fotoroman series in a new light. The first thing I noticed was that I was not really looking at the photographs when I was reading the novel and they remained in the background. Besides, whereas in photobooks the name of the photographer is prominent, in photonovels it is the scenarist and actors, and photographers are in the background. In photonovel projects, photographers are working as cinematographers.



A Photonovel Series, (source:


As I have mentioned earlier, in photonovels photographs consist generally of portraits. The use of dramatic light and close-up portraits, ensure us to understand the psychological state of the characters, and apart from this we don't see much details. Storyline is linear and plain. To me, photonovel has an advantage which can be also found in many photobooks: Some parts - especially the places and movements in detail - are left to viewers' imagination. And this experience of photobook turns into a cinematic one. According to John Berger, in photonovels use of photography doesn't generate a new solution, it only helps to reproduce a story based on the conventions of cinema and theater. The actors and the world become a stage. Therefore, when you are reading a photonovel you can feel the power of montage more than in some photobooks. There are parts the viewer has to piece together in his/her own mind. Classical montage techniques in cinema are used to incorporate the inner experience of the viewer. Clive Scott in "The Spoken Image" argues that these montage techniques are not enough to get the person reading the novel experience the excitement and an inner conception of time and space, that constructive use of gaps between the frames is crucial as well. He calls this constructive use of gaps "entr'images" or "between pictures." This technique, for Scott, is the most important aspect distinguishing the photonovel from cinema and drawing it closer to comic strips.(10)



From "Geride Kalan Günler"


As is understood, photonovel has been a popular culture media. However, one cannot deny it is also a photobook. It is interesting that we see many experimental and unordinary photobook projects but not any influenced by photonovels as a genre which is quite well-known. I think the reason for this is that because photonovel has always been associated with popular culture and popular figures, intellectuals have always underestimated it, and that it is a genre consisting of romantic elements and appeal mostly to women. However, there are artists who make use of the aesthetics of photonovels. Duane Michals, Sophie Calle and Marie-Françoise Plissart are some I come across. Plissart makes use of the aesthetics of photonovels in her book "Droit de Regards/Right of Inspection" she published with Jacques Derrida. However, in this book only photographs appear, there is no speech bubbles or writings. At the end of this 100 page photonovel, we see Derrida's essay on photography, seeing and sexuality.




Marie-Françoise Plissart, Jacques Derrida -Droit de regards, 1985

Sophie Calle, one of the artists whose works make good use of combination of photography and text, adapts the style of photonovels in her "The Sleepers(Les dormeurs)" and "Suite Vénitienne" but the text appear outside of the images.



Sophie Calle- Suite Vénitienne, (2015)


Another artist exploiting sequences of photographs is Duane Michals. He doesn't call himself a photographer, but a "storyteller" and he argues he produces his works not only to see what Bresson termed as "the decisive moment" but also before and after it.(11)



Duane Michals- Things are Queer, 1973


Considering the year 2016, even though photonovels are not really cherished, we see them occasionally as something nostalgia enthusiasts try to revive. For instance, Pulbiber Magazine publishes a supplement in every issue. In addition to this, the sophisticated way in which the term "click gallery" is used has become a "photonovel." Besides, the word "photonovel" lives as a word that inspired some photography studios as well.




1.Tunç A. (2005). Bir Maniniz Yoksa Annemler Size Gelecek: 70li Yıllarda Hayatımız. İstanbul: Can Yayınları.

2.Beatens, J. (2013). "The Photo-Novel: Stereotype as Surprise. History of Photography. 37(2), 137-152, DOI:

3.Barthes, R (1982.). L'obvie et l'obtus. (pp. 59-60), Paris: Seuil.

4.Beatens, J. (2012).The photo-novel, a minor medium?. Necsus. European Journal of Media Studies Vol:1 Issue:1 (s.1-3). Amsterdam University Press.

5. scanfan (2014, October 13). "Yeşilçam Uyarlaması Killingler" [Forum alıntısı]


7. Özgentürk, N.  (1999,  June 14). "Fotoromanın Yeşilçam'ı".

8.Milliyet Renk dergisi sayfa 1 13.01.1984, The Archieve of Milliyet

9. Kocabaylıoğlu, D. (2007, September). "Bir Dönemin Fotoroman Sinemacıları" [Cotation from Blog]

10. Scott, Clive. (1999). The Magazine Photo-story: The Rise and Decline of a Genre. The Spoken Image: Photography and Language. (pp. 184-214),  London, UK: Reaktion Books.

11. (2014, May 14). Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals