With Rehan Miskci On Her Projects

Rehan Miskci
Şener Soysal
About More

Şener: We met you through your first project, Terk, and it made me very excited. We were seeing the found photographs with the old photographs taken in the studio, but also for the first time, I encountered a work focusing on the space itself, too. Then you produced Foto Yeraz. I would be delighted to hear more about your project and experiences.  

Rehan: After Terk, I had continued to use images from Maryam Şahinyan archive, but after that series, my approach to found images slightly changed. As you said, I had a studio set-up inspired by Maryam's studio. I reflected the figures on it with projection, thus the images went to pieces and new spaces were born. But I often got critics about why works that alternate between two and three dimensions are displayed on a two-dimensional surface. In other words, why do we complete with a printed photograph eventually? As a result of this dialogue, the idea of Foto Yeraz emerged, that figures were erased and the place itself almost strike a pose.



This project began to take form during an artist residency in Beirut. I met several studio-photographers there. There was an Armenian neighbourhood called Bourj Hammoud. There, of course, most of the photographers were Armenian. Some photographers only use white backgrounds. Some still have darkrooms upstairs. I got along with one of them, George Dervishian. He still had hand-painted backdrops, but he has not used them anymore. He was a very good company and he was very willing to talk about it. Then I photographed his studio which became the backdrop of Foto Yeraz. Well, when you think about backdrops, you imagine the extravagant places that normally you would not go. In fact, George's studio turned into this kind of place for us. It became extravagant to us. That was the first spark I had in mind, and then I got a little more encouraged. "Ok", I said, "Foto Yeraz is an idea that will consist of these backdrops and props."   

In addition to this, I made a mountain-collage from the street photographs I took in this neighbourhood. This was another backdrop for Foto Yeraz. The mountain is actually a little bit of an unreachable place. 




Şener: It is already a metaphor, isn't it? 

Rehan: Absolutely. The interesting thing is that when I first started the project, I didn't think I would use the backdrops and put people in front of them. Because I don't position myself as a photographer in the project. But when the backdrop of George's studio was on display in the room, it turned into a studio with the lights and stool. There were constant swaps between dimensions.  

But as I said, it has become a very tempting room and people came into line to have their photos taken. Therefore, my own perception of Foto Yeraz has changed, too. Moreover, I have another project, "Not What It Looks Like". It was shaped by the decors used in the studios, too. Marble columns and so on. I isolated and reproduced them in two-dimensions by guessing their materials and sizes in accordance with the other figures near it. This time, they were positioned around a mirror as if they were posing together. This work had another sense, but I can see it in harmony with other works. There was a perception that a studio was decomposed and then reunited. 

While the other works were happening in Beirut, this one was exhibited at Kasa Gallery last year. I was questioning myself if this work produced in Beirut could be exhibited here or if I should reshape it in accordance with Istanbul. Nevertheless, the mountain image was exhibited in Istanbul as well. Another piece from Maryam's archive was added at Kasa Gallery.


Şener: It was the carpet in the entrance, wasn't it? It was pretty strong as well.

Rehan: Thank you very much. My beginning point was a photograph of my father with his ex-fiance before my mother. And it did not belong to my family archive, I found by chance from Maryam's archive. So there is something personal about it. The photograph is in two pieces. On the other hand, it was like putting my place fantasy in the photograph, too. As if we are separating the figure into two and space becomes involved in. After that, it is more about space than the figure. But as I said, the audiences coming and having their photographs taken makes it related to the figure, again.





Şener: I was wondering if you had special guidance for the audience to have their photographs taken. 

Rehan: I honestly didn't expect people to pose with that enthusiasm. But it attracted people and I enjoyed it. It showed that studio photography is not dead, but it still exists. 


Şener: I think the love of backdrops is not dead, as well. People love to have their photos taken in front of murals, too. 

Rehan: Yes, if we will have a photo taken, the first thing we consider would become the backdrops. 


Şener: On the other hand -as you already mentioned- there is a situation independent of figures in the work. On the one hand, it is very independent of figure and space; but on the other hand, it is very connected to the culture, photography, Armenian identity, space, and so on. The fact that you keep it within bounds and display without putting a bold emphasis connects and associates us to each other. The picture of your father is very precious and impressive even without listening to the story behind. Likewise other photos of the space. Although you divide them pieces, it seems to me that it is about all of us.  

Rehan: Actually, that was one of my concerns. Yes, my starting point is my Armenian identity. But is it all I do? For instance, do I refer to photography enough? However, your comment is very important to me. 


Şener: Your working methods are very multi-disciplinary. Photography, text, video, installations… Obviously, any discipline suiting your point gets involved in the process. But on the other hand, photography is one of the main points in most of your projects. What is the position of photography for you? How is the process of starting a new project for you?

Rehan: Photography is a very important matter in my production. Previously, photography was my only medium, and now I am more interested in how it interacts with other mediums to tell other stories. Since my bachelor degree was in interior design before my photography education, I always think about the intersection between space and photography. For instance, how space is represented in photography or vice versa. Even when I applied to other disciplines, photography is either a starting point or an important reference for the rest of the production.  


Şener: In Indifferent's statement, you refer to Roland Barthes. As he said, no writing can give the certainty of photography. Its accuracy is fictional and uncertain. But most of the time, it has a meaning. Photography, on the contrary, is real (even if it does not show the reality, it shows something which has existed). But the photography does not have meaning itself, and it needs an external contribution.  That's why photography and writing go well together. Can you tell us more about the collaboration of language and photography in Indifferent?  

Rehan: When I started this project, I actually found myself looking for analogies and contrasts between language and photography. I began with Turkish-Armenian reciprocities. While Turkish is the language I use in the outside, Armenian is the one I always use between the four walls. I tried to establish such a relationship between the photographs. In two different videos, I describe the pictures in two different languages. I was talking about the figural features of the photographs in Turkish. In Armenian, on the contrary, I was talking about what the photographs and the people in them make me feel. When we look at a photograph, which atmosphere we are looking at and how we describe that atmosphere were the main questions in my mind. 


Şener: İpek (Çınar) went to Armenia with Hrant Dink Foundation's Scholarship and she got a chance to live/produce there. She requested me to ask you a question: The culture conflict is an important matter in your works. Growing up as an Armenian in Turkey or trying to adapt to the USA as a person who is not familiar with that culture. The culture includes many different components such as language, history, and tradition. These components are the main factors that form the backbone of your works. What do you think about this?

Rehan: Minority identity is very variable. In every geography (especially in Diaspora) the perception of the minority is different. Being an Armenian in Turkey requires to keep some information to yourself. You cannot talk about everything to anyone. Inevitably, this situation becomes your character. As a person who grew up with this perception, I try to break these rules.   


Şener: We are told that Armenians are living in a small region in Anatolia. There were a lot of Armenians in Kırşehir before. My father told me: "There is a cruelty which I don't know how or when it began." At that time, my father's grandfather's cousin adopted a child. And again, he adopted and protected a girl from another neighbour in the same way. He hid them in the attic. The next day, they put the children on a train and sent them to Istanbul. They were about 14-15 years old. Then they have made a good life for themselves and got married. They come to Kırşehir regularly and visit the person who protected them. They even invited that person's granddaughter to İstanbul. As an expression of their gratitude, they want to be matchmakers for her. It is an amazing story. As I said, when you don't know this kind of story, everything seems disconnected. But actually, they are very intertwined.    

Rehan: It is very important to tell these stories because mainstream history has never told them. And there are thousands of such stories. My mother's father was sent to Istanbul in a similar way. It is actually the same story.  


Şener: Our last question is again from İpek: Which artists have influences on you? Is there anyone who influences your practice? 

Rehan: Of course there are. Walid Raad, Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Hrair Sarkissian, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Leyla Gediz, Marlo Pascual are the first ones that come to my mind.