On‘Tenha Vakitler (Solitary Times)’ with Merih Akoğul
Yasemin Semercioğlu: As all your previous works, your last exhibition titled ‘Tenha Vakitler’ created an impression. Would you tell us a bit about your exhibition for those who missed it?
Merih Akoğul: After 50 years of life and being aware that there isn’t 50 years more, after spending more than 35 years with photography, I held an exhibition after my own heart. It’s a minimalist exhibition, for I cannot do anything else. I saw that I could live with a camera and a lens; just as I knew I could live with a piece of paper and a pen. I believe everything should get simpler. People are already very confused.
If we consider it carefully, we can think of the exhibition in several parts: The first part is the photographs of my classic calm but a little bit satirical stance, the second part consists of my triptych works where I put three photographs next to each other, the third is a collage of 85 photographs made out of instagram photos which we can think of as a kind of memoir/observations under the name of”Instagram Diary,” and finally, the fourth is a nine photographs exhibition with the name of “Kudüs’ün HüzünlüÇiçekleri (Jerusalem’s Sad Flowers)” which consists of reproductions of a very special album created by priests of Jerusalem by photographing regional and seasonal flowers.
But of course, what is important is the general impression created by this exhibition consistent of 43 photographs. To me, the energy of the common ground created by all the photographs was very important. The feedback for this exhibition, which gained interests and admiration of visitors of all kinds, was very good for me. I saw that I did manage to tell what I wanted to tell. Although art contains passing of expressions via emotions to the others, it is also passing of the meaning – or the message if you will – with a minimum loss and using the possibilities created by the materials of that art form.
Y.S. There is a different approach in your photographs of recent years. What caused you to do this?
M.A. In this exhibition, which consists of photos I took in Turkey and around the world in the past four years, I tried to express our lostness between icons, brands, emblems and symbols, as I usually did since the beginning of 2000s. In truth, we have lives that are getting more and more solitary inside these crowds. It seems impossible to live without accepting and living according to this fact. I take my photos from these solitary times that I capture inside the crowds. And I follow the exhibitions, concerts inside the solitudes I create. I become more and more solitary and lean more on art’s strong shoulders as a viewer.
Actually, technology’s faster pace than human understanding caused a formal mutation in photography. Photographers thought less and created more. And this limited world which seems limitless had a hard time handling this much rubbish. Photography world turned into a fair.
I believe they consumed the materials endlessly and caused people’s patience to end. Taking so many photographs of everything caused saturation in photography. People who didn’t do anything else in their lives tried their lucks in photography, which they thought of as easy and simple. And because they thought of it this way, they unwittingly helped with rapid consumption of photography. I call these people suicide bombers of photography; they both destroyed themselves and hurt their surroundings with the photos they took. Piles of these photos look like the thrash left behind by the Sunday picknickers.
How long does it take to be a barber, a tailor, a cook, an engineer, a lawyer, a doctor… Everyone can take photos, everyone is an amateur in something; but I’m amazed and shocked by this courage parented by capitalism and digital technology in people who take photographs. In short, I go after the timider instead of more aggressive, simpler instead of flashier, more silent instead of louder. It doesn’t matter whether I take photographs or not, at least I know what is good photography.
Y.S. Years ago, I’m guessing 1998 or 1999, I interviewed you for Fotoğraf Dergisi. I remember that you also had poetry books. And then there were essay and memoir books. What kind of a soul do you have, what is going on inside you, to make you to express yourself in so different ways?
M.A. So, it has been 15 years. During this time I held many exhibitions, published photography books, but I could only write two more poetry books of which one is published and one is still with the publisher. Yes, image and writing materials are different. Or, to put it another way, when you take a photograph and write a poem of a material, what appears is different for the viewer. I love playing with, fighting with words. I’m the verbal type. Although I’m a photographer, when the topic under discussion is expression, my eye follows my tongue. I’m more in favor of telling instead of showing. I try to realize my photos as if they were verses. When a visitor looks at them, they should be able to see a verse they like or notice for the first time there.
Actually, both branches contain obscurity. Whatever I say, whether we accept it or not, everything ends with the viewer. The mechanism that turns a production into a “clear production” and causes it to be talked about begins to work right at this point. Therefore, an aware and cultural populace is a must before everything else. In the foreword for this exhibition’s catalogue, I described the situation thus: “Actually photography is a multiplication and reflection art. Although the most important parts of the holy triangle has always been considered as the art itself and the artist, the viewers’ comments have always determined what is lasting. Now is the time for the photographer to move aside and leave the stage to the “merciless viewer.””
Y.S. How would you evaluate your 35 years in photography, as the past and present of Merih Akoğul?
M.A. This is a very hard question. Time moves incredibly fast. The neighborhood of old wooden manors where my childhood was spent is now full of apartments. The amusement park where I used to play foosball has moved after 40 years because of the same reason – the technological big bang. You are now a teacher behind a desk, two meters from your desk when you were a student. Many – young and old – photographers come and share their photographs with you. You become a member of the selection committee for the competitions that you used to compete in.
I did what I wanted to do in my life and I am where I want to be. Despite being not too happy with what I see at where I am now, I fulfilled my wishes; I saw what studying, information and culture can add to a person; I met many valuable people from different areas. I believe, I lived the solitary times of a getting more and more crowded world well. And most importantly, I became free of all my ambitions and passions. I killed my egos, I finished my work with the world that is seen through my productions; so as to give my photographs and poems the opportunity to live without me when the time comes.
We thank Merih Akoğul for this sincere interview and we believe that his photographs and poems will always be valuable and live.
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