Young Photography Initiative

Young Photography Initiative

When we say independent art organizations, one of the main concepts is, of course, "independence". What does independence mean to you? As an art formation, what do you feel like you are dependent on, and what do you think you need to look out? 

The concepts like independence, freedom, and so on, are often perceived as limitlessness, accessibility, and the ability to do whatever someone wants. We believe that is not freedom, liberty or independence... I think independence means self-sustainability without any external support. So, an independent artist must be away from material and spiritual control or demand. That enables him to make his artistic production truly independent. But of course, we do not mean that the artists should do whatever they want. The art should also be based on a respect for people who have consumed it or not. Of course, the subject here moves to the issue of censorship and self-censorship. Of course, the concept of censorship needs to be discussed further, and what we mean by this is that the artists should not make their moves following material or spiritual returns. If the artwork is an expression, the responsibility of the artist should be producing with minimum expectations. If a form of production turns into material and fast expectations, I think it would be an order rather then an expression. Of course, the issue has many faces, but in short, this is our definition of independence and independent production.  

Although the independence of artist and art organizations are two separate phenomena, they have a lot in common. Initiatives like us need material and moral support, just like the artists. The subject records back to the beginning point that I mentioned above; if we want to be independent, we have to establish sustainable systems on our own. Firstly materially -as we opened exhibitions- and then spiritually. Naturally, the hardest part is the material one. But at one point you have noticed that even you manage to solve the material problems in some way, it does not mean that all issues are over. Because this time spiritual issues arise. 

In this context, GFİ (Young Photography Initiative), like everyone and every institution that claim to be independent, chose to be dependent only on the support of its members. Every person who is a part of the GFİ was also an essential part of that sustainable system, and it had continued till the last moment. The main reason why we wanted to remain independent was that the opportunities for production and exhibition of photography were highly limited. All in all, when the artists producing photographs could not open an exhibition, they inevitably got away from production. That was the common idea of ​​almost everyone in the GFİ. We were all people producing photographs, and dealing with these problems. There was little opportunity to exhibit as a photographer; either commercial galleries, museums or state institutions… And our main criticism was subjective and relatively esoteric selection processes in these institutional structures. After all, such institutions could not be transparent by their nature, no matter how much they wanted. Not to mention the situation of commercial galleries whose main target is to sell more, museums in the filter of single curators, and state institutions.

As a result, GFİ was founded by a few people who thought it was almost impossible for photographers, especially young photographers, to open an exhibition in a city like Istanbul. It was based on a completely transparent selection process and open call method through the portfolios and continued with this principle until its last exhibition. Anyone, who is under a certain age, can send a portfolio and participate in the selection process without any conditions. This transparency was very significant because it meant real independence for us. The GFI was financed by the people who established it, and everyone was making a living from non-art fields, which I think was one of the most crucial criteria in determining the exhibitions. GFI continued with a voluntary system by materially and spiritually to maintain independence.


When it comes to sustainability, the organizational model is just as important as economic issues. That prompt us to think of some concepts more. What do you think about the institutionalization and division of labour? 

As I mentioned in the first question, although the material resources may seem indispensable, the main issue is the organizational models. If we think very simple, even if you find the source that will somehow cover a place and printing expenses, you need people to choose exhibitions and think about art. If you want to find those people, like the galleries and museums, you should pay the fee to them. That is the model that we criticize from the beginning. There is already a lot of criticism about this model both nationally and internationally, so there is no need to repeat them. Of course, the contribution of galleries and museums to art is crucial, but we are also aware of the disadvantages. The artistic productions becoming more and more standardized with a priority of being popular and the institutions which create resources according to that.  

From this point of view, a structure that claims to be independent has no option other than volunteering. But of course, here comes the question of what volunteering means. We have noticed better over time that it does not mean the same thing to everyone. The volunteering basically means giving to and sharing from the same material and spiritual values. And, naturally, this is not quantifiable. It can become tiring after a while. There is a lot of research on this, often described as activism fatigue. Even if you divide labour, will you dismiss someone when they do not do their part? Or will you punish them? Of course, volunteering needs responsibility, but it does not work every time. I guess, in the best scenario, the rate is in half. That means that it is necessary to target less than the volunteers' claim. These targets may rise or decrease from time to time. I do not even get into the ego and conflict. The main thing is that people intend to do something together, and the rest is solved in some way. In this context, the division of labour is, of course, a must, but not as strictly determined as institutional structures. The softer and more flexible structure seems to be more accurate.   


The organizations arise from the individual desires and needs as well as the needs of the art environment. Therefore, the wishes and opinions of individuals become a significant factor in the structure of an organization. How much did your organization depend on the individuals part in and how did you balance between these two?

There is already an answer in the question. When people cannot find a response to their thought, they decide to create an alternative by themselves. We acted in this way. Because our first question was "Why there is not a gallery in Istanbul like we imagine?" and eventually we evolved into an initiative. Of course, such an initiative cannot be established without the people who form it are in consensus. And every initiative reflects most of the ideas of people in it. I think the consensus was quite high in GFİ. Although there were conflicts at certain times, we did not have hard times as we share the basic ideas. 


Why did your initiative end? What does termination mean to you? 

Yes, we could maintain it for about four years. The main problem was not sparing enough time. The workload of everyone has increased a bit more, and this has inevitably affected sustainability. Apart from that, there was no other problems or conflict. Of course, the decision of termination made us demoralized. Since we were a team that set off with the idea of "Do something instead of complaining", what we have dome has already given us a lot of satisfaction. We have also experienced what we can change if we desired. We were receiving a lot of applications both from Turkey and abroad, and that made us very happy. Being unable to sustain this, of course, affected us. After all, our positions have not changed much. We were published FOTOMAT, an e-magazine, before the GFİ. Maybe we continue with a similar format. The origins of GFİ had been sowed with that magazine, and we can return there. 


How did your organization sustain itself economically? 

It was sustained by members. We had received ant sponsorship. In short, we have always paid rent and printing expenses in our pocket. We did not get any commission from the sold pieces, too. 


Does the concept of generational difference mean anything to you? Do you think that your initiative can transform itself in the period that continues its existence and adapts to the new conditions?

Obviously, GFİ could not last long enough to have a generational difference. But I think that we captured the spirit of that period, which you can see by looking at the current productions of the artists who had opened exhibitions in our space. Many of them opened their first exhibitions with us, and they continue to produce. 


What difficulties did you experience during the termination process?

We did not have any problems since there was a consensus in the decision.


If there was a world in which you could determine all the conditions, what changes would you think for maintaining?

In an anarchist world!!


What kind of problems do you observe in independent initiatives, and what are your concerns about the future of them? Do you have any suggestions or experiences to share?

Some of the problems we wrote above await all organizations that try to remain independent. The energy of people is very precious, so it is the most difficult energy to find. The solution that comes to my mind is to start with smaller goals than it can do. Because human beings would want more when they did. And of course, finding ways to reach more people is also crucial for spiritual satisfaction. I think it is useful to collaborate with other organizations and this is the biggest deficiency in our country. The most important thing is to believe that it can change the world. But it is necessary to change to achieve the change.