The Bosphorus Art Newspaper, a monthly publication to share news, ideas, and events in the art world as well as to introduce new artists to their readers. My old friend, and a highly accomplished painter Hatice Kumbaraci Gursoz, who has been writing a column for the Bosphorus Art Newspaper for many years and its Ankara representative, asked to interview me for the July issue of the publication. The following is the English version of what appeared in print. You can find more about Hatice and her work on her website. The original article by Hatice Kumbaracı Gürsöz is below. The images of its cover and the page in which it appeared are also towards the end of the post.
Art Photographer Cemal Ekin
“To photograph: it is to put on the same line of sight the head, the eye, and the heart.”
― Henri Cartier-Bresson
My interest in the art of photography peaked during my years at the Academy [of Fine Arts]. However, the heavy load of my classes, atelier work, and Cours de Soir (Evening Classes) prevented me from attending the photography atelier. Consequently, I could only continue my interest in photography as a spectator despite my great interest in it. Later on, my son Doruk Gürsöz was able to study this art form during his studies to become an interior designer. I believe that photography added a new dimension to his profession. He assumed the responsibility to photograph my paintings for exhibit catalogs and his designs added a different kind of art to the catalog contents.
During the years when I established Suna Çokgür Ilıcak Art Gallery and assumed its curatorial responsibilities, I curated the “Echoes from the Homeland and the World – Photo Exhibit” by the late Sıtkı Fırat. Also, the late photographer Şahin Kaygun was a student of mine while I taught Painting and Art History at Adana Karşıyaka High School. I most admire the work of the photographer Ara Güler, especially his black-and-white work.
In this article, I would like to talk a little about Cemal Ekin who has made his name heard in the international art world. Living in the United States, Cemal is a well-known art photographer with many exhibits and awards in addition to being a life-long educator. His work with dried orchid blossoms became the genesis of an original ballet Orchis performed in 2013 and then in 2014 by Festival Ballet Providence in Rhode Island.
While I was studying painting at the State Academy of Fine Arts, Cemal also attended the photography workshops as a visitor. He is a childhood friend of my husband, my brother, and I. And, this friendship that started and got fused in the dusty heat of Adana still continues as strong. Cemal has been living in Rhode Island for a long time with his wife Janice who is a great friend of Turks and Turkey. His work that echoes the faces from Anatolia has been subjects and inspiration for my work as well. His black-and-white art punctuates the finesse he extracts from them and invites you to experience the lyric, even melancholic moments fully lived.
Through our conversations over the Internet, I asked him a series of questions and this article is the result of our conversation, albeit from afar.
HKG (Hatice Kumbaracı Gürsöz): What is the origin of your interest in the art of photography?
ACE (A. Cemal Ekin): I used to be fascinated by pictures, as photographs were commonly called then. One day in 1951, when I was at the Sariyar Dam for the summer where my father worked, I entered a darkroom to watch Valentin make prints. I believe that was his name and I was sure it was magic; put some light on paper then soak it in something to make an image appear from nowhere.
After a trip to Doğanca, a small village in Thrace, back in 1963 or so with a borrowed camera, I seem to have found my photographic footing. I returned with a few rolls of photographs of the village people and village life in a representational manner, but, they also conveyed how I felt about them. Friends and family, photographers and journalists encouraged me to follow the path I had found; and, to a large extent I believe I am still walking on that path of creating connections and commonness between me and the viewer.
HKG: What is the role of the technique, craft in the art of photography?
ACE: The tools have changed, we now watch tiny cans of ink delicately and precisely put some ink to make the images emerge. In many ways, the magic still continues although many facets of photography have become almost trivially simple. The “simplicity” of photography, compared to other art forms, has become simpler yet as many see it and practice it. Everyone is a photographer if they have a smartphone, and “photography” has become almost synonymous with “image recording.”
After years of practicing photography, making many mistakes, reading about and looking at photographs with gusto have helped me to accept, no, embrace the idea that photography is a language with its own vocabulary, grammar, syntax that help me, and other photographers to encode an idea into our work. A message, so to speak. I do not mean a profound social commentary, a message can be, and often is, quite simple like the dynamic, energy-filled, almost moving forms created by dried orchid blossoms. Indeed, a collection of these photographs later became a full-fledged ballet, Orchis, with its original choreography, music, costumes, and an accompanying show featuring these dried blossoms bringing together multiple disciplines of art. Quite a thrill for all the artists indeed!
Art without the mastery of the craft is hard to sustain, so it was essential for me to learn the craft of photography from what goes on in the camera, to developing film, and extensive darkroom work. This later continued in the digital era and I have become extremely comfortable in Photoshop, Lightroom, and producing fine prints. As much as art cannot do without craft, too much craft can overpower the art. The mastery of the craft requires, for me, that my work appears to be “effortlessly done.” Craft should push the vision and the idea forward and not be visible itself. The craft-driven trends in photography seem to stem from a desire to be noticed in the flood of imagery made with cameras. Lack of restraint can easily make the craft the main thing in a photograph, pushing the art behind. I believe the tools and techniques should remain subservient to the photographic vision.
HKG: Photography is inherently visual and tied to reality. What are the elements that should be taught and learned about this art form?
ACE: We are exposed to a very large number of images every day, and most, if not all, are called photographs. This may create the impression that photography is changing, some may even think it is going downhill. In the case of photography, the tip of the iceberg is the millions of photographs we see, and the unseen, deeper part are the practitioners of Photography. Take Gregory Crewdson for instance, whose work starts questioning you, let alone providing answers to your questions, engages you in creating your own narratives while looking at his photographs. His preparations may take months to create with extremely elaborate staging. Yet, looking at the finished photographs the viewer marvels at the execution and then the tools and techniques become transparent; the conversation begins.
Having taught at college level for over 40 years, I have learned that teaching is a great learning tool and writing to share ideas crystallizes them better. So, I used every opportunity to leave reasoned comments on photographs on early photo sharing sites which helped me to learn more about my work. Later, I started writing about various aspects of photography, from critical essays to technical tutorials on my blog. As much as they might have helped the readers, they forced me to organize my thoughts and learn more about the subject.
After many workshops, lectures, over 500 blog posts, tens of thousands of frames, and a dozen exhibits, inclusion in books and magazines, and even a ballet, I remain as interested in photography as I was back in that darkroom in 1951. So much to learn!
As Cemal said, art is an endless, boundless experience. Artists of all kind are special people. They get their strength and creativity from sharing their art. I have always been proud of the success of such a valuable Turkish artist. I wish and hope that his work will find followers among the art lovers in Turkey. You can find more information about him and his art on his website.
That’s all from the Capital. Wishing you all a long life filled with health and art in a free world.