“Look here, I am thinking about this topic and working on it for a while now, I think you should think about it too.”
Interview: Şener Yılmaz Aslan
First of all, please tell us a little bit about yourself. How did the decision to settle in Germany come to be and how is day-to-day life in Berlin?
Ece Gökalp: I studied Photography and Video at the Yıldız Technical University, and concentrated on the theory of photography for my graduation thesis. Then I decided to find a school for my master’s degree to reflect this theory more on to practice. After checking out many schools, I researched the “Art in Context” department at the UdK Berlin (Berlin University of Fine Arts) upon a friend’s suggestion, I applied to the school and was accepted. So, I have been in Berlin for three years now and am very happy with my choice, I think it has benefited me immensely.
Since I came to Berlin, I have been socializing less and doing more research and producing, so I am living a work-focused life really. I have a sweet new puppy that I named “Kün” and the past week has been sort of crazy at home. In addition to new exhibitions and projects, I am trying to house train Kün now.
Looking at your works, photography seems to be a form of expression for you. What is photography’s place in your life?
E.G.: Frankly, during the first two years of my undergraduate studies we were required to work with very strict rules and focus on certain topics, and I did not get off to a good start with photography. Our education focused on achieving results, and it turned into something that I unknowingly rebelled against. Afterwards, when I kind of let go of the school, and concentrated on the things I wanted to do – I was in fact doing illustrations before photography – and in a way combined these two, photography was transformed into an endless form expression for me. I think there are different tools in life that everybody feels comfortable using. In this sense, photography has become a tool that I feel very comfortable using, and since then things like thinking and reading about photography, taking pictures, deciding not to take pictures have become a very big part of my life.
Generally, after you take a shot, as much as you like to intervene with an image physically or digitally creating fictional scenes, photograph, you also produce documentary works. Would it be correct to say that you deal in all fields of photography?
E.G.: Actually I had promised myself when I was just a student of photography that I would not take nature photos and documentary photos. They seemed to be pretty boring, but I have been taking pictures of landscape for years and I have shifted to documentary photos in the last two years. I guess you would not call them documentary really. In my latest projects the subject and the way I communicated the subject to the audience became more important to me. I think previously the aesthetic concerns weighed more heavily. Of course, I am still trying to produce works that reflect my own aesthetic perception but for the last couple of years I have been more concerned about directly expressing myself, as if to say, “Look here, I am thinking about this topic and working on it for a while now, I think you should think about it too.” So whatever that falls in a photograph, I am there too.
What can you tell us about your project “Ataerkil Pazarlığımız” (Our Patriarchal Bargain)? How did it come to be?
I was chatting with a friend in the summer of 2014, and I think it all began to emerge as she recounted the horrible assault she experienced when she was 18. When she said that her parents still did not know of the incident, I asked her permission to record the rest of our conversation, and I think I started the project as a reflex. What I really want to focus on in the project is harassments, humiliations, and challenges in everyday life; in other words, gender-based discriminations occur so often that women have internalized and are not aware of them anymore. I conducted interviews with 13 women aged 25-35 living in Istanbul and photographed them during their interviews. I will compile and present them in an exhibition and book format in a few months, but given the nature of the subject, the next phase of the project after the interviews has progressed very slowly and I still have a lot of work to do. With this project, I want to expose these normalized memories or those that women were too ashamed / did not feel the need to share with others, and to be empowered through such sharing. We can say that it is a project more about content than its photographs.
When you practice your profession as a woman, do you feel like you are subjected to various discriminations or do you experience challenges for being a woman?
To be honest, since I am more on the artistic side and not really in photography industry, I did not face much discrimination. But there are times when it is pretty much a men’s club situation among the photographers, and when I’m there, people can start to say, “Ece won’t like this but…” alluding to my being a “feminist”. Having done so much research on the subject, I cannot just laugh them off frankly. I also feel sad to see that being ignorant of these issues can still be something that does not cause shame and even makes one proud.
Looking at how you manipulate your photographs, you must have design past, do you have other art / design productions besides photography? I only ask because I assume that no one can make a living on art production alone, so how do you make a living?
Before entering the Photography and Video Department, I was already doing illustrations, so I have never been someone who only takes photos. But now, I keep most of what I do to myself. And yes, making a living can be problematic; I am currently studying for my master’s degree, and the scholarship I got last year helped a lot. For me, scholarships and grants are the alternative to selling my works. Otherwise, I am not interested in the industry itself. I would rather find another line of work to earn a living than being a photographer trying to exist in the industry sector.
Finally, would you share with us some of the artists that influence and guide you in your work? In addition, who are some of the artists that come to your mind when I say cinema and music?
In response to this question, I could mostly give authors’ names. A new project usually begins to take shape in my mind as I read something or just before I fall asleep. Carolyn Merchant’s “Death of Nature” had a real impact on me last year for instance. It was very helpful as I thought about the rhetorical figure in the project where my grandmother was in the forefront in a subject about family and women. Deniz Kandiyoti’s “Cariyeler, Bacılar, Yurttaşlar” (Concubines, Sisters, Citizens) was the book that helped me collect my thoughts as I was working on the “Ataerkil Pazarlığımız” project but felt rather lost in it, and eventually became the name of the project. I often return to “Camera Lucida” by Roland Barthes, for example, and similarly to Susan Sontag’s “On Photography”. Lately I have been reading Barthes’ “Mythologies”. I am not sure if they can be an inspiration for a photographer but I can name one or two photography books from my library I like a lot. I love Mark Cohen’s book “Dark Knees”, and similarly Hanne van der Woude’s “Vivace” project and book are very successful. From time to time, I enjoy checking out “Serralves”, a work of Charlotte Moth that she presents in a different format.