Tactics Against Strategies - Photography in Turkey*
* This text is written for the 10. Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie catalogue, with respect to the symposium on 21. April 2018.
Between the year of its inception 1840 and the 1980s, photography in Turkey had mostly been a tool of orientalism, propaganda of the newly founded Republic, panoramic beautification or social realist documentation. In 1980’s, with the first photography departments in art academies and the emergence of people integrated with the international art scene, new forms of conceptualization began to be slowly introduced. Through 2000s, digitalization enabled many non-photographers to use this medium in their works, regardless of their technical qualifications. The legitimization of these “ordinary” pictures in contemporary art scene was a big surprise for the traditional photographers, who confined themselves to a close circuit of criteria, outside the art world. Today, this conflict of perception over photography left its place to a genuine language that appreciates the very nature of the medium.
However, the status of the medium does not always provide a specific market or get the support of institutions. Almost all of the very few photography galleries in Istanbul have already shut down due to economic struggles. Photography collectors are very few in number and even the collections of institutions are based mostly on donations. As contemporary art industry is poorly supported by public funds, actors in this field still try to make do with their private or personal resources. Political and social instabilities have always been an important problem, especially for photography. Being more direct and sometimes perceived more factual than it is intended to be, photography has always been subject to harsh criticism.
Photographic medium also offers various approaches to handle struggles with. Photographers intentionally or unintentionally resist political norms and pressures in different ways. Some use their personal narrative against social norms imposed by the power, using their subjective experience to reflect on the status quo. Some deal with major transformations on the urban landscape and public memory. With an interdisciplinary approach towards architecture and sociology, they reflect the changes in urban life and discuss the consequences. It is also worth mentioning independent photojournalists who engage with social and political matters with enthusiasm and work with a conceptual approach.
In the current air of uneasiness, people are now more interested in all forms of art either to find a trace of some resistance or to find peace in the fictional realm. Despite closed commercial galleries, nowadays one can find more artist initiatives, collectives and new online channels. Photography gradually got integrated into contemporary art scene and we see examples of it in galleries and exhibitions more than ever. Artists find ways of directly sharing their work without the help of bigger institutions. They are more active in the international art scene and are not limiting themselves to the opportunities in local spaces. There is reason to believe that against the strategies of the power, art world will always find new tactics to survive.