A little tour through the history of photography with Turkish Cypriot photographers
By Heidi Trautmann
I got my first camera when I was 12 years old, a box
camera with a handle to turn to the next
position on the film roll, a longish film roll, with paper around. I still have these first
pictures in one of my first albums. How proud I was. Ümit Ali Esinler, one of the first elite photographers
in Cyprus, had the same experience, he told me. He got his first camera from an
English painter for whom he carried the painting equipment on his tours through
the island. The first camera was for us a confirmation of finally having
entered the adult world. You are now old enough to learn to use your eyes and
to form your own views. This is most probably the most important statement on
With your first camera you will start to take pictures
of your friends, your family, your secret first love, but then you most
probably will direct the lens of your camera on details, on portraits, insects,
on single blossoms and you start to discover the peculiarity or beauty of it. A
master in this field is Emel Erkan, famous for his beautiful
and romantic nature photo studies.
Doing portraits you first have to get to know the
person until finally your image of the person develops which very often is not
appreciated by the person itself since he/she has a different understanding. It
takes years to learn this. The human face, the human body, human behavior, social
conflicts is a terrain so wide that professional or amateur photographers concentrate on that for their entire life,
out of own interest and curiosity or further use in art and/or business as a
picture tells us more than words. I
remember those young days, the days as a student, 17 or 18 years old, with
provocative books such as J.P.Sarte or André Gide under my arm, smoking
Gaulloises and discussing God and the world with my friends, exploring such
things as faces and everything that goes with humanity, exploring with the pen
and with the camera. My father had given me his old Leica with which he worked
as a foreign correspondent in Africa. I glued a strong reading glass to it to
get the hairs in the nostrils clear and distinct. We were a group of young
people discussing possibilities, and we preferred to work in black and white,
we even developed our own photographs using an old bellows camera. I have seen
similar cameras vamped up for macro-photography in the studio of many older
photographers like Veli Kaymaklılı or in the home museum of Ersin Taşer who is a professional and most respected photographer in Cyprus with an
Black and white photography using light and shade at
its extremes holds a lot of charm and still excites me most. A good example is
the often surrealistic art work by Dr. Lisani Otağ whose black and
white photographic works are perfect and rich in contrast. He told me that he
mostly uses just natural light sources, no spot lights. Another photographer I
came across and who loves working in black and white is Giray Karahasan with his
two exhibitions on erotic photography. Very soft grey tones.
When I had a class reunion this year after 60 years
one of my classmates remembered laughingly that I had brought to school a book
with nude photographs from my father’s library. I was eight then. It must not
have been an interest in photography then. And I remember the pain the
teacher’s cane left in my palm.
Landscape photography depicting the most beautiful
moments of a day, a season. There was an exhibition of Cypriot/American
photography in 2006 displaying 172 photographic documents of the beauty,
history, culture, people and physical features of Cyprus with many known
photographers from both sides of the Green Line. In this respect I want to
mention especially Rauf Denktaş who was a passionate photographer of Cypriot landscapes
and other beauty.
Photography in journalism: A journalist gets close to
world moving and shocking events and besides becoming air steward/ess or model,
a journalist was the next most wanted profession for many young modern people.
Through my interviews with photographers of North Cyprus I learnt that many had
worked as journalists such as Ersin Taşer who on one occasion met with Nikita Krushov. Or Kadır Kaba who lived and worked as
journalist in London and roamed the streets for documentary photos with social
But journalism does not hold only good sides to it
when I come to think of war journalists. It needs a certain detachment to get
through these experiences unharmed in soul and body. The photo of the young
Vietnamese girl with her skin burnt off her naked body went around the world
and got a high valued award. It does take some hard nerves to kneel down in
front of a fleeing victim and shoot a photo. Journalism at its worst is reality
photography racing after blood soaked stories, accidents, horrors and terror,
or the so-called paparazzi chasing famous people. Shocking photos get better
paid. It reminds one of voyeurism.
I used to watch people reading their morning papers in
the train or tram, at their office desk; their faces distorted in disgust or
malicious pleasure, but comforting them for the day ahead to accept their
destiny better. Voyeurism at its worst is pornographic photography and this
dark area is bigger than we can possibly think.
I rather continue with food photography and
advertising. That makes your mouth water. When you are feeling unhappy the best
thing I can suggest is to leaf through a cook book with good photographs, your
stomach will take over and lead you on rosier roads. Or I think of book
illustrations and picture books I go through when I want to visit a country.
Illustrations enter the human mind faster and easier.
As photographer in this field you need a good portion
of philosophical and artistic training, the knowledge of colours and its
effects on the human mind. Advertising photography to make people act, to respond
to a certain project, either to make them buy something because it is supposed
to make them happier, or to donate money for the third world with photos of
poverty and human disaster.
Another technical photographic job is the one done by
criminologists and court authorities to prove a person guilty or innocent. It
requires high technical equipment and deep knowledge of it, to bring things to
the surface the human eye cannot disclose. I remember Ümit Ali Esinler doing
Architecture photography is another interesting field,
not only for young architects to see what others are doing but to present an
aesthetic view of modern architecture, to document the philosophy behind the
structure and material used and establish an archive for cultural background
documentation. Emel Erkan is teaching
architecture photography at a Canadian University.
Not so long ago I visited the National Archive in
Kyrenia and the director took me around the building where the important
documents of the island’s cultural heritage are stored. I met Dr. Netice Yildiz, Art Historian and
Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture at the Eastern Mediterranean
University, and we talked about her latest project of doing archive work there in
the Archive, also for analytical purposes and showed me photos of old Ottoman
documents she has taken. What a great job and I do hope that one day we are
going to see these beautifully painted documents in an exhibition.
I have kept one special field for the end of my
collection of thoughts on photography, that is art photography and photography in art. It has become a most
fascinating theme in modern art thinking, although already some time ago famous
artists such as Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso have exclaimed: - Pablo Picasso: I have discovered photography. Now I
can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn.; - Francis Bacon: .. I have always been very interested in
photography. I have looked at far more photographs than I have paintings.
Because their reality is stronger than reality itself. John Steinbeck has
said:...it does seem to me that it is proven beyond all doubt that the
camera need not be a cold mechanical device. Like the pen, it is as good as the
man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart...
That is so very true and not
only valid for photography but for all tools in art. Art photography is to
select, compose and execute a work corresponding to the aesthetic values of art
in general and to manipulate the photograph for experimental presentation,
either by chemical or physical media or tools or by digital process. All our
local photographers have tried their hand in it after Kadir Kaba, who has studied photography in
England, has promoted photography in North Cyprus and initiated new directions.
Interest groups formed such as Afsad,
Avant-Graph, and Cypriot Photographers’ Gallery, where artists and
photographers assisted each other and organized exhibitions and annual
competitions. From some of these groups
emerged some younger generation art photographers such as Özgül Ezgin, Mustafa Erkan
Karahasan and many more.
Art installations using photographs; art projects
questioning specific social problems or taboos represented through a daring and
unusual approach. It is no longer the ‘catch the scene and press the button’
mentality, it has become a philosophically researched work. To use photographs
in art is a completely legitimate process. Hikmet Uluçam, graphic designer, has first shown the possibilities with his graphic
art exhibition in 1980 when the local art scene lifted its head and smelt a
fresh wind blowing. That is recognizing the graphic element in nature, graphics
created by wind and erosion; superimposing humans into images of nature,
presenting a new interpretation. Going close to things using macro-photography
and discover a most precious insight. Here one of them is Veli Kaymaklılı showing
the structure of old wood boards, rust-stained metal, rubbish dumps with a
single flower growing out of it. Morbidity.
Artist Günay Güzelgün who has discovered
photography for herself and goes passionately after light and shade
experiences; or Mehmet Uluhan who uses the abstract forms he encounters in nature for his paintings,
himself painter and photographer. A young artist, Rüya Reşat (who died so
very young in 2011) who has studied art in France, made fascinating digital
art, leading us into a new world of wonders. I have spoken to artists of the older
generation, Ayhan Menteş and Salih Oral who are fascinated by the
digital processing and have created new images but still within their
understanding of art and they go on
creating with a new feeling of freshness and curiosity. Art starts in the head
and all tools are legitimate.
Not to forget the collectors and non-professional hobby
photographers. Nazif Bozatlı has the most interesting photo collection on
local events, individuals, buildings and roads and he often provides his
friends including myself with photos from his collection. There is a relative
of mine, a hobby photographer and passionate traveler around the world: She has
started a photo collection of anything pink, for example, a boat all in pink, a
woman totally in pink….
The human being is a visually oriented creature and
will always try to document its impressions - in earlier days by glyphs,
scratching and paintings on the cave wall - and will recognize corresponding
images made by others.
Postscriptum 1: The human being has five senses, thereof
seeing, hearing and touching are all accepted in fine arts. I wonder when we
will start including tasting and smelling.
Postscriptum 2: The photographers and artists
mentioned within the text have been interviewed by me and are featured in my
book “Art and Creativity in North Cyprus”; there are many other most
astonishing art photographers in the scene but I don’t have their statements